Saturday, January 25, 2020

State pension payments are rising in 2020 - how much more will you be able to get?

Both the basic and the new state pension rises each year, according to the triple lock. This means that it rises every year by whichever is the highest out of the average percentage growth in wages in Great Britain, the percentage growth in prices in the UK as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), and 2.5 percent.

READ MORE

  • State pension: How will payment dates change this month?

The changes will comes into effect in April 2020, when the full rate of the UK’s new State Pension will increase by 3.9 percent to £175.20 per week.

Currently, the full new state pension is £168.60 per week.

This increase means those getting the full new state pension will get an extra £6.60 per week – which works out at an additional £344 a year.

Meanwhile, the full weekly rate of the basic State Pension is set to increase by £5.05 per week from £129.20 to £134.25 per week.

However, not everyone will be able to get the full state pension.

The new State Pension takes National Insurance records into account, and some people will receive more and others less than the full amount.

For those who retire overseas, it’s possible to claim the state pension in most countries.

However, the state pension will only increase each year if the claimant lives in:

  • The European Economic Area (EEA)
  • Gibraltar
  • Switzerland
  • Countries that have a social security agreement with the UK (but a person cannot get increases in Canada or New Zealand).

Gov.uk states that a person will not get yearly increases if they live outside of these countries.

Should they return to live in the UK, the recipient’s pension will go up to the current rate.

The Government has confirmed that other payments are set to rise in April 2020, confirming that it would not extend the benefits freeze which was due to end next year.

From April 2020, working-age benefits will rise by 1.7 percent, in line with inflation.

READ MORE

  • Universal Credit payment will change in 2020 – will you get more cash?

According to the DWP, around 2.5million people on Universal Credit will see their payments rise by this amount, with the increase estimated to benefit more than 10million people.

Working-age benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Universal Credit, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Child Benefit, have remained at the same level since April 2015.

Despite the upcoming rise, research from the Resolution Foundation has found that some people affected by the freeze will still be hundreds of pounds worse-off by.

According to the Foundation’s analysis, the freeze reduced the real-terms value of working-age benefits by six percent since 2015, and left the average couple with children in the bottom half of the income distribution £580 per year worse-off.

But while the benefit freeze is over, its impact is here to stay with a lower income couple with kids £580 a year worse off as a result.

Adam Corlett, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation

Commenting on the rise by inflation rates back in October this year, Adam Corlett, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Today’s inflation figures have confirmed that working-age benefits received by millions of families are set to rise in line with prices by 1.7 percent next April.

“This is their first cash increase in five years.

“But while the benefit freeze is over, its impact is here to stay with a lower income couple with kids £580 a year worse off as a result.

“And because benefits will only keep pace with rising prices, the social security safety net will continue to erode – falling further behind earnings and the state pension.”

Source: Read Full Article

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Explainer: Central bank digital currencies - Moving towards reality?

LONDON (Reuters) – Central banks are looking at creating their own digital currencies – a stark contrast to the ethos of cryptocurrencies that seek to subvert mainstream authority over money.

As Facebook’s efforts to launch its Libra cryptocurrency pour fuel onto debates over who will control money in the future, major economies have started to examine how so-called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) could become reality.

Here are some key questions on the rise of central bank digital currencies and their progress in entering the mainstream.

ARE CBDCs DIFFERENT TO CRYPTOCURRENCIES?

Yes – and fundamentally so.

CBDCs are traditional money, but in digital form; issued and governed by a country’s central bank. By contrast, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are produced by solving complex maths puzzles, and governed by disparate online communities instead of a centralised body.

The common denominator is that both cryptocurrencies and CBDCs, to a varying degree, are based on blockchain technology, a digital ledger that allows transactions to be recorded and accessed in real time by multiple parties.

While some retailers accept bitcoin as a form of payment, cryptocurrencies are not recognised as legal tender – which CBDCs, by definition, would be.

And unlike central bank money, both traditional and digital, the value of cryptocurrencies is determined entirely by the market, and not influenced by factors such as monetary policy or trade surpluses.

AND WHAT ABOUT ELECTRONIC CASH?

The rise of technology like contactless debit cards has made it easier for consumers and businesses to use electronic cash, or e-money, to pay for goods and services.

But this also differs to CBDCs.

Electronic cash, defined by the Bank for International Settlements as a store of value for making payments to retailers or between devices, is usually held at banks or on pre-paid cards or digital wallets such as PayPal.

CBDCs would not merely be a representation of physical money, as is the case with electronic cash, but a complete replacement for notes and coins.

SO WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF CBDCs?

Central banks think CBDCs could make payments systems, which are often time-consuming and costly, more efficient, reducing transfer and settlement times and thus stoking economic growth.

Some central banks think CBDCs could also counter the rise of cryptocurrencies issued by the private sector such as Libra, planned for launch in June 2020.

Bitcoin and other virtual currencies, hampered by wild volatility, have presented few realistic threats to central bank control over money. But central bankers fret that Libra could reach billions and quickly erode sovereignty over monetary policy.

CBDCs, they think, could address problems like inefficient payments that cryptocurrencies seek to solve, while maintaining state control over money.

In an era of negative interest rates, CBDCs are also seen as offering a tool to encourage businesses and people to spend money and invest, the argument goes, as they could be used to charge households and businesses to hold cash.

ARE CBDCs CLOSE TO BECOMING REALITY?

Increasingly so – though most CBDC projects are still in very early or conceptual stages.

A growing number of central banks are likely to issue their own digital currencies in the next few years, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has found. Most of those launching pilot schemes are from emerging markets. [L4N29R45W]

Among major economies, China is closest to becoming the first to introduce a CBDC. While details of its project to build a digital renminbi are scarce, it will be powered in part by blockchain technology and will initially be issued to commercial banks and other financial institutions.

The central banks of Britain, the euro zone, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland said on Tuesday they will share experiences in a group assisted by the BIS as they examine the case for issuing CBDCs.

ARE MOST MAJOR CENTRAL BANKS SUPPORTIVE?

Caution and scepticism exists in many quarters.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, was notably absent from collaboration with the initiative by the European and Japanese central banks to look at CBDCs.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in November the bank was monitoring the digital currency debate but not actively considering its own amid a host of legal, regulatory and operational questions.

Others, such as the Bank of Japan, have warned that uncertainties over the impact of CBDCs on commercial banking must be addressed. The BOJ has also scotched the idea that CBDCs could boost the effectiveness of negative interest rate policies.

Source: Read Full Article

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Allied Tech CEO, CFO to assist in CAD probe

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Allied Technologies’ chief executive officer Clement Leow Wee Kia and chief financial officer Ong Lizhen will be “providing assistance” to the Commercial Affairs Department on an investigation, the company said on Wednesday night (Jan 22).

The Catalist-listed precision engineering firm had made headlines in May last year when news broke that $33 million of its funds parked with JLC Advisors had gone missing while JLC managing partner Jeffrey Ong’s whereabouts were unknown.

That same month, CAD seized documents from Allied Tech relating to the company and three of its subsidiaries as well as the JLC escrow account. CAD also interviewed Allied Tech’s executive director Kenneth Low Si Ren.

CAD has not disclosed to the company further details of the probe as at Wednesday, Allied Tech said.

Allied Tech added that it intends to cooperate fully with CAD on the investigation and will provide further updates to shareholders on subsequent material developments.

Separately, Ong from JLC has been slapped with 26 charges, having been arraigned last October on four fresh counts, including the most serious criminal breach of trust offence.

Trading in Allied Tech shares has been suspended since early May, amid concerns raised by auditor Ernst & Young over the company’s financials.

Source: Read Full Article

Told to behave, sides in Trump trial to make their case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will hear opening arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, beginning several days of argument on whether to remove Trump from office.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump said allowing current and former top administration officials such as John Bolton to testify at the trial would present national security concerns.

In a 13-hour battle over trial rules that lasted until the wee hours of Wednesday, Republican senators rejected requests for subpoenas seeking the testimony of Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, and three White House officials.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-run House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and impeding a congressional inquiry into the matter.

The president denies any wrongdoing.

The trial, the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, was due to resume at 1 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). On Tuesday – effectively the trial’s opening day – Democrats argued that more witnesses and records were needed since the Trump administration had not complied with requests for documents and urged officials not to participate.

Arguments became so heated that Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, admonished both the defense and prosecution.

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Representative Adam Schiff, leading the House Democrats’ prosecution team of “managers,” said the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming” but further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-majority 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on Trump’s November re-election bid is unclear.

Trump said he would prefer a longer trial so that current and former top administration officials could testify, but that having them appear would present national security concerns.

“The problem with John (Bolton) is that it’s a national security problem,” Trump said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” he told a news conference.

Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further testimony and evidence at some point later in the trial but they held firm with Trump to block Democratic requests for witnesses and evidence.

“They insist that the president has done nothing wrong, but they refuse to allow the evidence and hearing from the witnesses … and they lie, and lie and lie and lie,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, another Democratic impeachment manager, said of Trump’s lawyers in remarks to the Senate.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone fired back.

“Mr Nadler, you owe an apology to the president of the United States and his family,” Cipollone said. “You owe an apology to the Senate. But most of all you owe an apology to the American people.”

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE

That back-and-forth led Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, to admonish both men.

“I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” he said.

During a debate that finally wrapped up near 2 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Wednesday, senators rejected by 53-47 votes motions from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena records and documents from the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Office of Management and Budget related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Senators also rejected requests for subpoenas seeking the testimony of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, White House aide Robert Blair and White House budget official Michael Duffey.

Under the rules, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.

The Senate trial is expected to run six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.

Trump and his legal team say that there was no pressure on Ukraine and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.

No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” One president, Richard Nixon, resigned in the face of a looming impeachment.

Source: Read Full Article

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Business leaders see the light of 'moral capitalism' at Davos

There is a tendency, probably with good reason, to be cynical about the sight of a conga line of plutocrats lining up in a Swiss ski resort to espouse the virtues of "green finance" and proclaim their commitment to progressive environmental, social and governance agendas.

The theme of the World Economic Forum at Davos that got underway on Tuesday is "stakeholder capitalism," with a particular focus on climate change and how big business is responding to it.

Bank of America chief Brian Moynihan says his investors are telling the bank to invest in companies ‘doing right by society’.Credit:Bloomberg

While it is right to be cynical of the apparent abrupt conversion of former followers of Milton Friedman – who in an article in The New York Times in 1970 argued "companies must obey the law but, beyond that, their job is to make money for shareholders," – to what Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan has termed "moral capitalism", there is a compelling reason why that cynicism actually supports the substance of the conversion.

If the starting point is that businesses and their senior executives act in their own self-interest and are in the business of making as much money, for themselves and their shareholders, as they can, then the embracing of sustainable investment agendas is helps protect their licences to operate, maximise their companies’ profitability and value and enhances their own net worth.

BofA’s Moynihan, who’s in Davos, said the bank’s investors were telling it to invest in companies "doing right by society". The bank plans to invest $US300 billion ($439 billion) in sustainable business projects over the next decade.

Ahead of the conference, in his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock’s Larry Fink caused a stir by writing that climate change had become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects and that he believed the world was on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance, with a significant re-allocation of capital to occur in the near future.

BlackRock chairman Larry Fink belives a fundamental reshaping of finance is occurring.Credit:Bloomberg

If Fink is right and there is a fundamental reshaping of finance underway, then capital will flow towards those companies with sustainable and moral business models and away from those with a narrower and more traditional profit-maximising vision.

There are more than enough investors, customers and governments that are committed to responding to climate change that it has become just good business to protect the long-term sustainability of companies – and their competitive access to capital – by prioritising the broader sustainability issues those stakeholders are concerned about.

There could be a lot of shareholder value to be created, or lost, if the shifts in community expectations of business, and the flows of capital, are permanent.

With traditional market capitalism under attack from the emergence of aggressive populism, nationalism and protectionism in the post-financial crisis era, there has been a general distrust of big business and its traditional focus on near-term profitability.

There are real risks for businesses and shareholders from climate change and what might be called amoral capitalism.

The Bank for International Settlements has talked about the potential for climate change to generate “green swan” events that could cause the next systemic financial crisis.

One only has to consider the condition of the four major banks in the Australian market and the consequences of their misconduct in their efforts to maximise profitability, to see the consequences for the corporate hierarchy and shareholders.

The llenders have been hit with massive costs, more intrusive and aggressive regulation, increased corporate and individual liabilities and the evictions of former senior executives and directors.

Coal miners would be very aware that, at the very least, the pool of investors – the demand for their shares – is going to shrink as the focus on responses to global warming and climate change intensify.

The sudden burnishing of big businesses’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials at Davos might have an element of "greenwashing" but it is also a pragmatic and self-interested recognition that the nature of the capitalism acceptable to communities is evolving inexorably.

If the corporate heavyweights at Davos want their companies to survive and prosper and to continue to collect the big bucks, their understanding of the range of stakeholders and priorities they serve will have to evolve too. It seems like it is.

Source: Read Full Article

Billionaire founder of Lotte Group leaves no will? Let the plotting begin

(BLOOMBERG) – It was once a great blessing for an emperor to have a son. But if he has more than one, succession could threaten to unravel the empire – especially if his grip was weak.

Over six decades, Shin Kyuk-ho built a chewing-gum business into South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate, spanning hotels, shopping malls, movie chains and cafes. It’s no secret that the founder of Lotte Group was near the end of his life: He died over the weekend at 97 after slipping into dementia years ago. While the patriarch involved his children in the family business, Shin never established a clear heir apparent. Miraculously, he didn’t even leave a will, Korean media has reported.

In South Korea, family-run conglomerates tend to control their labyrinthine holdings with the minimum possible capital outlays. While Hong Kong tycoons typically maintain 40 per cent to 50 per cent stakes to keep their crown jewels close, Korean billionaires often hold around half that. This approach can create a host of problems when there’s a transition of power, and investors are already profiting from a potential palace coup. Lotte Corp, the holding company, rose as much as 20 per cent on Monday before closing 5.9 per cent higher.

Things are getting even hairier now that traditional family structures are getting tested. At SK Group, South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate, an ugly billion-dollar divorce could strip chairman Chey Tae-won of control if his wife gets the stake she’s seeking. And while primogeniture once went unchallenged, younger brothers and sisters are now clamoring for their share.

That’s certainly the case with Lotte. Five years ago, Shin’s two sons – Shin Dong-joo, the elder, and Shin Dong-bin – were already jockeying for power as their father’s health declined. In July 2015, Dong-joo said Shin had ordered the removal of Dong-bin from the board of Lotte Holdings of Japan. That very day, Dong-bin convened a board meeting and stripped his father of the chairman title. Lotte Corp’s conglomerate discount widened to 45.8 per cent, or roughly US$1.5 billion in value, under Dong-bin’s reign, estimates CLSA.

Now the elder brother, Dong-joo, has little hope of regaining his power. Directly and through firms he controls, his younger brother, Dong-bin, has a 21.2 per cent stake in Lotte Corp, estimates Sanghyun Park, an analyst who writes for Smartkarma. Even if Dong-joo inherited his father’s shares and spent all his cash buying Lotte Corp’s shares, his ownership would be just 19.07 per cent.

But all isn’t lost for Dong-joo. The wild card is an 11.1 per cent stake in Lotte Corp held by Hotel Lotte, which is controlled by Lotte Japan. The elder brother could significantly boost his indirect stake in the conglomerate’s Japanese operation by winning over an employees’ union that holds a 28 per cent share. This could put Dong-joo in a position to renew his bid for Lotte Corp’s crown. Lest we forget, he wouldn’t even be a contender if his younger brother had amassed a few more shares over the years.

Investors have learned to brace for these family feuds. The stock price of conglomerate Hanjin Kal Corp, whose units include flagship carrier Korea Air Lines, has been on a roller-coaster ride since the chairman’s death last April. Since then, the eldest daughter – Heather Cho, who first gained global notoriety for her “nut rage” incident in 2014 – has criticized her brother now in charge of the family business. She even met with activist private equity funds.

With the economy flagging, there’s a growing sense that chaebol reform, which swept President Moon Jae-in to power in 2017, is losing steam. But with inevitable deaths, expensive divorces and family theatrics, the president may not need a “chaebol sniper” to unravel these overly complex corporations after all.

Shuli Ren is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian markets. She previously wrote on markets for Barron’s, following a career as an investment banker, and is a CFA charterholder.

Source: Read Full Article

Monday, January 20, 2020

Down Town Association looking to add floors to landmark HQ to make room for hotel

A blueblood Wall Street-area social club wants to raise the roof of its century-old, landmark headquarters at 60 Pine St.

It would put the storied organization on firmer financial footing by letting it use less space in the building to make room for a fancy new hotel.

But some members of the Down Town Association are down in the dumps over a possible two-year closure that would force them to find alternate places to meet and eat around town.

The intensely private organization — whose members include publicity-shy financial and legal powerbrokers — first received Landmarks Preservation Commission approval to add three floors to its five-and-a-half-story home in 2010.

But the Association, whose past members have included Franklin D. Roosevelt, former New York State Gov. Thomas E. Dewey and statesman John Foster Dulles, couldn’t build due to tough financial times. Now, under a deal being negotiated, its landlord would build the new floors and use them and part of existing floors to create a high-end boutique hotel.

The hotel would be run by an outside operator yet to be named.

The Association no longer needs all of the building’s 57,000 square feet, and reducing its space would save it what a source called a “significant” percentage of its current rent, although it isn’t known how much it’s paying.

The Romanesque Revival-style structure stands in the shadow of next-door 70 Pine St., the landmarked Art Deco skyscraper that was converted from offices to apartments by Rose Associates — and where the Association leases 33 members’ bedrooms on the tower’s second floor.

The 60 Pine St. building was designed by prominent 19th Century architect Charles C. Haight and opened in 1887. It was expanded in 1910 by Warren & Wetmore, the architects of Grand Central Terminal.

The interior, rarely seen by outsiders, boasts elegant white oak paneling, a four-story cast-iron lobby staircase, and Gilded Age-era dining rooms with noble arched windows.

But the club was beset by rising costs and reduced dues from a shrinking membership.

According to its 2017 tax return posted on the state attorney general’s charity registry, expenses that year exceeded revenue by $4.02 million, twice as much as in 2016.

In 2018, the Association sold the building for $28 million to Great Empire Realty — an obscure partnership which club members refer to as “the doctors.”

A source said it is not the firm of the same name run by Chinatown developer Benny Fong, as was widely reported at the time.

The club leased the building back from the buyers. The deal brought the Association much-needed cash as well as a $4 million line of credit.

The club even installed a new gallery where works by Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning and Paul Gaugin are on display.

So members were stunned in 2019 to learn of the hotel-building plan, which would force them to find other facilities until the job was finished. The landlord would use the three new floors as well as parts of other floors for a 66-room luxury inn.

“Not all of us were happy with the sale and then the hotel came out of the blue,” one source told us.

In September, the Landmarks Commission again blessed the expansion. It noted that many social clubs “have a tradition of expanding with rooftop additions” and that the 60 Pine St. extension “will be set back from the primary facade and will not be visible” from the street.

The redesign would relocate within the building some of its major historic features including its dining room, bar, and reading room.

A stylish, ground-floor bar for hotel guests would be added to the first floor, which club members could use at discounted prices.

At a December meeting, Association president Mark Altherr, a former director of Credit Suisse Securities and Citigroup, addressed members’ concerns.

Club trustee Thomas Boucher, a managing director of investment-management firm Ingalls & Snyder, cited some members’ fears that they “wouldn’t receive full value” of their dues for 2020 if the club shut down before year’s end.

No start date has been set for construction.

But Altherr promised that members “will be treated fairly during closure through credits upon reopening and with use of other places.”

The Association has reciprocal arrangements with other clubs, including the Harvard, Yale and Lotus clubs in Manhattan.

Neither Altherr nor representatives of Great Empire Realty could be reached for comment.

Source: Read Full Article

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Hudson Yards haters have lost their minds — over a fake wall

Absent any sensible reason to condemn Hudson Yards, the vast project’s innumerable detractors came up with a laughably hypothetical one this past week. The idea was that the developer, Related, might one day build a 700-foot-long, 2-story-high wall along its westernmost edge that would separate the complex’s yet-to-be-built second portion facing the Hudson River from the elevated High Line Park.

The notion emerged during a conversation among officials of Related and the High Line and was leaked to The New York Times and to public officials who detest everything about Hudson Yards, from developer Stephen Ross to the french fries at the Thomas Keller TAK Room. Photos of a model surfaced on Saturday which indeed included a wall.

But, in fact, there was never the remotest chance of the monstrosity being built. Hudson Yards raised it as a strictly theoretical solution to the challenge of constructing another set of buildings and parkland above an active rail yard in its second phase. Developers come up with such preliminary “what if” contingencies all the time even for a single building, to say nothing of a 27-acre, $28 million mega-complex.

The Yards’ second half (between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues) isn’t even designed beyond the rough-concept stage. Related can’t build a square inch of it — nor even start work on the platform — until a million issues are worked out with the LIRR, the MTA and other agencies, which could take years.

That didn’t stop influential Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman from inveighing against it. “Hudson Yards Promised a Park. They Didn’t Mention a Giant Wall,” the headline growled. The wall, he wrote, would make the whole complex a “quasi-gated community” and a “wealthy, exclusive enclave.”

When Related promptly said it had no intention of building a wall, state Sen. Brad Hoylman cheered that Related was “backing down from their plan to build a 20-foot-high concrete wall that would have cut off the High Line from new open space.” Other politicians including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Speaker Corey Johnson expressed similar sentiments.

The wall was mooted as a way to raise the western Yards’ platform surface to fit a parking garage beneath it. Although obviously untenable, it served to focus progressives’ free-floating rage on a project that has no legitimate reason to be hated. Hudson Yards didn’t level charming old buildings or drive out poor people. No neighborhood was “gentrified” — the whole thing’s on top of a railroad yard from where, as far as is known, no hobos were evicted.

So what’s to hate? Ah, “exclusivity.”

Brewer ripped Hudson Yards as “elitist” and unwelcoming to people of color. Never mind that its extensive public amenities and open parkland are freely open to all. Its giant shopping mall offers Shake Shack and other cheap places to eat in addition to fancy restaurants, and such “elitist” shops as H&M along with Cartier.

Why would Related want to harm the High Line, which it has done so much to support? It moved heaven and earth to design the complex so that its public plaza would merge seamlessly with the park at West 30th Street. It provided more than $29 million for the construction of the park’s new Spur segment. Related pumps in over $800,000 a year to help fund the park’s operations and has raised significant additional funding for it over the years.

But damning Hudson Yards is a favorite sport in the Big Apple intelligentsia’s progress-hating precincts. Familiar gripes bleed through Kimmelman’s essay, which called The Vessel a “trash basket-shaped tourist attraction.”

In the past, Kimmelman has written that he enjoyed the view from the top of Hudson Yards’ tallest building because the view didn’t include — Hudson Yards. Artnet.com critic Nate Freeman identified The Vessel as “the most visually repugnant public structure to be inflicted on Manhattan in its history.” Curbed.com’s Amy Plitt praised a sex-toy company for making a Vessel-shaped butt plug.

Yards-shaming dribbles down to many politically sensitive New Yorkers, who gang up on it at every gluten-free brunch and natural-wine tasting. They proudly and excitedly share Instagrams of vacations in Tibet and the Seychelles, but balk at taking the terrifying 7 train to Hudson Yards — “it’s so hard to get there.”

The restaurants there are terrible, they insist. By the way, they ask, can I help get them a table at Estiatorio Milos or jump the line at Mercado Little Spain?

And so on until everyone collapses onto throw pillows, exhausted by the effort of sounding like idiots. But telling them they’re mistaken — that just maybe, Hudson Yards will prove as enduring and be one day as beloved as Rockefeller Center — is like talking to the wall.

Source: Read Full Article

UPDATE 1-Turkish central bank adjusts gold limits in lira reserve requirements

(Adds comments from central bank)

ISTANBUL, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The Turkish central bank said on Saturday it had decreased the upper limit of holding standard gold to 20% from 30% of lira reserve requirements in a move to support financial stability and bring out gold savings into the economy.

By decreasing the limit, $1.7 billion equivalent of liquidity in terms of gold will be provided to the market and 4.5 billion lira liquidity will be withdrawn from the market, the bank said.

It said it was taking the step “to strengthen the monetary transmission mechanism, support financial stability and bring out gold savings into the economy”.

As part of the move it said it also increased the upper limit of holding standard gold converted from wrought or scrap gold collected from residents to 15% from 10% of lira reserve requirements.

In doing so, $300 million equivalent of liquidity in terms of gold will be withdrawn from the market, whereas 2 billion lira liquidity will be provided to the market. (Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu and Can Sezer; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Source: Read Full Article

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trump, EU chief to meet in Davos as U.S tariffs loom over digital tax: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump is expected to meet with EU leader Ursula von der Leyen in Davos, Switzerland, next week, three sources said on Friday, as tensions mount between the allies over tariff threats and the U.S. president faces an impeachment trial at home.

Just days after Trump scored big victories by inking a partial trade deal with China and passing a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he will travel to the World Economic Forum where he is expected to discuss deepening trade disputes with the European Commission president.

The White House and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Among the raft of trade issues dividing the allies, Washington’s most immediate concern is France’s plan to impose a 3% digital services tax, which the U.S. government believes would harm U.S. technology giants like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Amazon.com Inc, with a host of other countries poised to follow suit.

In retaliation, the U.S. trade representative last month threatened to impose a 100% tariff on French Champagne, handbags, cheese and other goods and services. Trade experts say those tariffs could hit as soon as late January, given the lack of progress in negotiations.

“Things are not really going anywhere,” said one of the sources, a European official, despite frequent talks between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. “The U.S. is not really ready to compromise in terms of having some sort of digital services tax,” he added.

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan on Thursday, ended a round of talks with senior U.S. officials in Washington, saying that negotiations were off to a “good start” but there was more work to do.

Iran will also likely be high on the agenda, after Britain, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear pact with the country, following Tehran’s decision to begin scaling back its compliance with the agreement.

The pact offered Iran sanctions relief if it curbed its nuclear work, but Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions, saying he wanted a tougher deal.

Tensions in the region have heightened after the United States killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to attend the forum.

Trump and von der Leyen, Germany’s defense minister, know each other well after sparring over Berlin’s failure to reach NATO’s 2% defense spending target.

In a December 2016 interview, von der Leyen defended her shocked reaction to Trump’s election, saying, “I am not a political machine, but a human being … and I heard exactly what he said during the campaign, also as a woman.”

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In media's 'Wild West, news consumers struggle to find truth, trust and transparency

Free-to-air broadcast television audiences are in decline, but news programs on commercial networks are still amongst the most popular shows on air.

Despite platforms such as Facebook and Google becoming distributors of online news content, 52 per cent of news consumers watch news and current affairs on TV daily, and 42 per cent rely on the bulletins as their primary source, according to research found in the UTS Centre of Media Transition's report on Australian news.

Australian Communications and Media Authority chairman Nerida O’Loughlin.Credit:Rhett Wyman

However, broadcasters, like other traditional media, have continued to face challenges as they compete for attention in the digital era. Consumers have become increasingly reliant on platforms, such as Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, that don’t abide by the same regulatory codes as traditional media. Consumers find content on these platforms, only a portion of which is factually correct and reliable.

"Fake news" – a term used to describe news that deliberately includes disinformation to mislead readers – has become increasingly prominent, eroding the public’s trust in news media altogether. As fake news and the spread of misinformation evolves, viewers and readers have become increasingly sceptical of the content they watch and consume.

Research released on Friday, conducted by the UTS Centre for Media Transition on behalf of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, found 83 per cent of respondents were concerned that news on commercial television and radio broadcasters was influenced by large advertisers, and 88 per cent were concerned news is made more dramatic or sensationalised to attract viewers.

Almost 100 per cent of respondents notice commercial influence in all sources of news, and 76 per cent are concerned media companies use the news to promote businesses they own or have commercial interests in.

Of daily news consumers, 39 per cent are concerned it is being reported from a particular point of view, while 38 per cent of those who read newspapers at least once a week think this is the case.

Those surveyed were also asked about commercial influence across multiple sources of news. Consumers noticed commercial influence mostly on news that appeared on social media – 92 per cent – while 89 per cent noticed influence on television news and newspapers.

The research, a collection of both qualitative and quantitative data, looks specifically at the impartiality and commercial influence in news. Its findings were “quite surprising”, according to ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

As Australian consumers scrutinise reporters’ ability to remain impartial and question the influence of advertisers, broadcasters face greater pressure to address these issues and prove trustworthiness.

A monitoring program conducted in June last year by the ACMA looked at a number of examples where consumers may be mislead or confused by potential commercial relationships, such as reporters going on trips to report on the release of new products or segments presented by a spokesperson for a company rather than a reporter.

One example used was a Nine News Now report on retail chain Big W's Toy Mania sale featuring products and prices without disclosure of a commercial relationship. (Nine Entertainment is the owner of this masthead.) Nine said it was not a commercial arrangement. The ACMA said this was a potential example where lack of disclosure as to whether money had exchanged hands could confuse viewers, or cause them to be sceptical.

Another example used was a Seven News segment on a new Samsung television available at Harvey Norman, which was followed by an advertisement for the product at the retailer.

“What we wanted to see was what was the impact of … digital disruption on the business models for television and radio and how they were affecting the content that people would see, and in fact whether those business models were affecting it," Ms O'Loughlin explained.

“In a broader sense what we were interested in was the whole impact of the changing landscape on news and the retention of factually accurate informative news on television and radio and see whether some of the issues about trust, which were seen in the online space, were playing out in the broadcasting space."

Qualitative research conducted for the discussion paper found respondents often couldn't identify commercial influence when presented with an assortment of news video clips.

"I would think it would be difficult [to detect commercial associations] a lot of the time, which is
why I have a general sort of a lack of trust … You never know behind the scenes what kind of
strings are being pulled to decide what stories get run and which stories get cancelled and why
they get cancelled or why they are run," a participant from Mount Gambier said.

You never know behind the scenes what kind ofstrings are being pulled.

An older participant from Port Lincoln said it was important to disclose all relationships. "If you're having truth in journalism it should be stated clearly that even if you're sponsoring another program on our channel, that's going to have no influence whatsoever on any broadcasting of our news," they said.

The research, Ms O'Loughlin said, found that while television and broadcast radio were still trusted sources of news, there was a perception that bulletins had commercial influence, even if they did not.

“Some might think there’s a commercial relationship sitting behind it and it’s not," Ms O'Loughlin said of the research.

“Retaining trust in those services is really essential and if you have things like increasing commercialisation, perception of less impartial news, it all adds into that sense of a lessening of trust in those very trusted sources, which is what we are worried about,” she added.

But many of the concerns raised in the ACMA’s paper is not new or limited to broadcasters.

Research conducted in 2017 found Australians were incredibly concerned about impartiality, bias and the separation of fact-based and opinion-based news content.

The Digital News Report, released by the University of Canberra last year, found 62 per cent of Australian news consumers were worried about determining what is fake or real on the internet. Australians were found to be the world's most likely to share dodgy articles online, with almost half of Generation Z using social media as their main source of news.

General trust in news dropped from 50 per cent to 44 per cent in 2019.

Concerns about commercialisation in news have also been long-standing. In 2001, research commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Authority found more than 85 per cent of Australians thought commercial sponsors were very influential or somewhat influential in news coverage.

Meanwhile, an international study that looked at disclosure statements conducted overseas found that even if the statements were made, recognition of the advertising was low.

The Free TV Code of Practice currently requires broadcasters to present news fairly and impartially, and to distinguish factual material from commentary and analysis.

In radio, current affairs programs are not required to be impartial but a licensee must provide reasonable opportunities for "significant alternative viewpoints" when dealing with controversial issues of public importance.

Free TV chief executive Bridget Fair, who represents the interests of Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Network Ten, said if there was a need for further regulatory measures, they needed to be for social media platforms.

Facts are very different from perceptions, and the job of a regulator is to respond to facts, not feelings.

"If there is a need for further regulatory measures, it is in relation to social media and online news platforms which are in effect the Wild West of news content. Commercial television already has extensive and appropriate safeguards in this area which are subject to ACMA oversight," Ms Fair said.

"In this era of foreign interference, fake news and misinformation on social media and online news platforms, it is understandable that there is a heightened perception of issues such as commercial influence, bias and lack of trust across all news sources."

Prior to the research, the ACMA received 313 separate complaints about impartiality-related matters on television and radio between 2015 and 2019, 20 of which were about potential commercial influence. Four breaches were found.

"Facts are very different from perceptions, and the job of a regulator is to respond to facts, not feelings," Ms Fair said. "The facts contained in the ACMA discussion paper demonstrates that the level of concern expressed by commercial television viewers regarding issues of impartiality and commercial influence is extremely low, and the actual findings of breach almost non-existent – four breaches in five years across all Free TV broadcasters, who are generating more than 25,000 hours of news and current affairs content every year. "

Ms Fair's comments follow a government response to The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Digital Platforms Inquiry, which included the introduction of a voluntary code of conduct to govern Facebook and Google's actions on disinformation and fake news, that would be overseen by the ACMA.

Ms O'Loughlin assured the ACMA was already in "constructive discussions" with the digital platforms in this area.

"Disinformation, fake news … [Google and Facebook] know internationally that every country wants them to do something about it."

    Source: Read Full Article

    Wednesday, January 15, 2020

    Whitehaven flags surge in coal demand on back of US-China trade deal

    Whitehaven Coal, Australia’s largest dedicated coal miner, says a US-China trade war truce will help revive demand for coal exports, as it tries to bounce back from a production slump caused by bushfires and a worker shortage.

    Coal producers have been in the spotlight this week after the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock, announced plans to dump thermal coal investments from its huge $10 trillion global portfolio because of climate change concerns.

    Whitehaven Coal’s production has been hit by bushfires, drought and a labour shortage. Credit:AP

    Fellow ASX-listed miner South32 downgraded production guidance at its soon-to-be-sold thermal coal business in South Africa on Thursday due to unfavourable "market conditions".

    South32 has retained its metallurgical coal business in Australia and said in a statement it would "not build or buy any new energy coal operations".

    "We’ve aligned our company decarbonisation plans with the Paris Agreement, and our long-term goal of net zero emissions by 2050 reflects this commitment," a South32 spokesman said.

    The $2.6 billion miner Whitehaven said its coal production in the December quarter was 3.1 million tonnes, down 58 per cent compared to the same period last year.

    Coal sales were down 17 per cent, with the group maintaining volumes by dipping into its coal stocks, which fell from 2 million tonnes to just under 1 million.

    Whitehaven said in its quarterly report that demand and prices for thermal coal, which is used in power plants, and metallurgical coal used in steelmaking had been hurt by the US-China trade dispute, and that it believed a “phase one” deal signed overnight would boost demand.

    “We are seeing strong demand, and every tonne of coal that we can get out of the ground we’ve got a buyer for,” Whitehaven chief executive Paul Flynn told analysts.

    Whitehaven has been struggling to find workers at its flagship Maules Creek mine near Boggabri in NSW and needs to fill 50 to 60 roles. The Maules Creek site was also hit with production stoppages through November and December due to smoke, dust and haze from bushfires as well as drought.

    Whitehaven slashed its production forecast in December, prompting a 10 per cent share price dive. It shares closed flat at $2.59 on Thursday.

    The company reaffirmed the production guidance it provided on December 5, which Goldman Sachs analyst Paul Young said meant the mine needed to deliver record-breaking production in the June half – even as it dealt with its labour shortage.

    Mr Flynn said its guidance was achievable, having run at a similarly high rate in previous quarters, and that a new approach to recruitment was delivering results.

    Morgans analyst Tom Sartor said the key takeaway from the quarterly update was that disruptions from weather events were not as bad as initially implied from its December downgrade. However, Mr Sartor cut his bullish price target from $3.67 to $3.46 based on a lower revenue forecast due to softer thermal coal prices in the second quarter.

    South32, which spun out from BHP in 2015, on Thursday revised production guidance at its South African thermal coal business to the “bottom end of our range” for this financial year, which was 26 million tonnes.

    The miner wrote down its investment in the thermal coal producer South Africa Energy Coal by $US500 million ($725 million) last year as it prepared to sell the business to Seriti Resources.

    In its quarterly production report, South32 said it delivered record year-to-date production at Brazil Alumina, as well as higher production numbers for aluminium, silver, lead, and zinc.

    South32's shares closed flat at $2.85.

    Source: Read Full Article

    Real Estate Board of New York honors 7 stars of the industry

    Meet the seven real estate professionals who will be honored at Thursday night’s REBNY gala.

    The Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award

    • David R. Greenbaum, Vice Chairman of Vornado Realty Trust

    This is Greenbaum’s 39th REBNY dinner — initially becoming involved while a tax attorney at Weil Gotshal & Manges. At that time, he was invited to speak to a luncheon by the late Bernard “Bernie” Mendik, who he calls “a true champion for our industry.”

    Joining the Mendik Company in 1982, he became its president in 1990. In 1997, the Mendik Company merged into a new real estate investment trust, Vornado Realty Trust, where Greenbaum is now a vice chairman.

    He is a member of REBNY’s Executive Committee of the Board of Governors as well as its Economic Development and Tax Policy committees. In honor of his accomplishments, Greenbaum received REBNY’s 2010 Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Achievement Award.

    At Vornado, Greenbaum oversees all aspects of the NYC portfolio encompassing over 80 buildings with 30 million square feet plus Chicago and San Francisco projects.
    In New York, Greenbaum is spearheading the Penn Station district redevelopment of the former Farley Post Office into offices for tech companies, plus new retail and entrances for the Moynihan Train Hall in the building’s base, as well as the redevelopment of towers that surround Madison Square Garden.

    Greenbaum is active in the 34th Street Partnership, the Grand Central Partnership and the Times Square Alliance. He is a member of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate Advisory Board, while the New York City Partnership selected him to participate in the David Rockefeller Fellows Program.

    A first-generation American whose parents escaped Germany in 1939, he and his wife support the Center for Jewish Life at his alma mater, the University of Rochester, and are funding an AgriFood Tech campus in Israel through the Jewish National Fund, where he serves on the board. He sits on the boards of the Lighthouse Guild and the Jeffrey Modell Foundation.

    For any young person entering the field of real estate, Greenbaum says to “work hard, work harder.”

    “It is also critical to be part of organizations like REBNY to meet as many people as you can in the industry and to find mentors,” Greenbaum adds. REBNY effectively promotes the city’s economy and “emphasizes the importance of investing in infrastructure to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

    The Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award

    • H├ęctor Figueroa, Former President of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union

    Figueroa served as union president for seven years until his untimely death at the age of 57 in July 2019.

    During his tenure at 32BJ, Figueroa built and led the research and political departments, and later served as leader for the tri-state and New York metro areas. A tireless fighter for immigrant and worker rights, Figueroa established the American Dream Fund, the union’s voluntary political action fund.

    As director of the 32BJ New York metro district, Figueroa led operations and negotiated strong contracts for 70,000 members in the New York area, which includes those working in both commercial and residential buildings.

    Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to the Bronx and received a degree in economics from New York University before joining the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union as a researcher.

    In 1995, he began working with SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, followed by work in Puerto Rico as SEIU Director for the island. In February 1999, he was asked to serve as deputy trustee for 32BJ and was elected as its Secretary-Treasurer in 2000. He was elected president in 2012.

    Championing racial, social and economic justice, the union and its 175,000 members have been at the forefront of national campaigns to defend and expand voting rights and to fight the causes and effects of climate change.

    Young Real Estate Professional of the Year Award

    • Robin Fisher, Senior Managing Director at Newmark Knight Frank and founder of Blace

    “New York City is a very complicated place to do business,” says Fisher. “Everyone here lives to work, as opposed to work to live.”

    Fisher joined Newmark Knight Frank in 2004. Along with office tenant representation, she advises retailers and corporate portfolio operators on asset optimization and site selection. As a tenant broker, she says, “You have a big impact on the work and lives of your clients.”

    Her outstanding work at NKF led to her receiving REBNY’s Most Promising Commercial Salesperson of the Year Award in 2008. “The first three to five years are a game of survival,” she advises those interested in the profession. “But if you survive, the benefit of being a real estate professional is unique, and, money aside, it’s very fulfilling.”

    Recognizing that finding sites to hold events was difficult, Fisher recently founded Blace, an online platform where high-end corporations and entertaining firms can book spaces and manage events.

    From the beginning of her career, Fisher has been very active in the Young Men’s/Women’s Real Estate Association (YM/WREA) which chose her for this award. The organization hosts monthly luncheons, a kayaking excursion and numerous charitable events, from building homes with Habitat for Humanity to feeding the homeless around Thanksgiving. Fisher notes these events are great opportunities to meet others in the business: “I got to know senior brokers and later ended up doing deals with them.”

    The secretary of YM/WREA in 2009, Fisher served on YM/WREA’s 2010 Board of Governors as vice chairman. That same year she received NKF’s Rising Star Award and is a member of NKF’s Young Leadership Council. She was also involved in merging the Association of Real Estate Women (AREW) with Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) New York. “As women, we are most powerful together,” she says.

    Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Achievement Award

    • Jodi Pulice, Founder & CEO of JRT Realty Group

    “What is greater than that being recognized by your peers?” says Pulice, a leasing professional for three decades who founded JRT Realty Group 24 years ago. “I think the world is changing; I hope for women and minorities it’s changing for the better.”

    Her strategic alliance with Cushman & Wakefield allows Pulice to be at the forefront of that change.

    She is responsible for a leasing and management portfolio of 13 million square feet on behalf of TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America). She has also racked up leasing and sales transactions totaling over $3 billion, including the sale of the Seagram Building and representing the FDIC’s national field offices at 92 locations. Pulice was previously honored as one of the Association of Real Estate Women’s Top 50 Women in Real Estate.

    Along with New York, she has an office in California and would like to see its law requiring women on boards come to the Big Apple. “We’ve always been breaking through the glass ceiling, and now we need to be on boards,” she says.

    Pulice sits on REBNY’s new Diversity Committee as well as the Leasing Brokers Committee. “Chairman Bill Rudin has done an unbelievable job so women and minorities have a fair shot at the table,” she says.

    She also serves on the boards of three non-profits: the Long Island YMCA, the UNFCU Foundation for Women and the Jeffrey Modell Foundation. “I know how to make money and I am trying to give back,” she says.

    As for newcomers, she advises: “Never take ‘no’ for an answer because if you don’t ask, you never are going to get — and every ‘no’ has to mean ‘yes’ in your mind.”

    The George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award

    • Henry M. Celestino, Vice Chairman of L&L Holding Company

    From nuclear power plant sites to offshore oil rigs to wastewater treatment plants, Hank Celestino has seen it all.

    Now, as Vice Chairman at L&L Holding, he is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day construction, engineering, building operations and management throughout the company’s nearly 10 million-square-foot portfolio.

    He has also played an integral role in the redevelopment and commissioning of such landmark L&L projects as 200 Fifth Ave., 195 Broadway, 390 Madison Ave. and 425 Park Ave. He has also guided the engineering, planning and installation process for several large mechanical and architectural capital infrastructure projects.

    A Fairleigh Dickinson University grad with a degree in civil engineering, he worked at Burns & Roe Engineering on a nuclear reactor and evaluated offshore drilling rigs, wastewater plants and oil refineries.

    In New York, at Schulman Realty Group, Celestino focused on the ground-up construction of commercial buildings. He joined the Building Owner and Manager’s Association (BOMA) and serves on BOMA committees.

    He transitioned to Newmark Real Estate, eventually overseeing its 25 million-square-foot third-party institutional portfolio. As his career moved to the owner/developer side of the business, he found REBNY membership invaluable. “The organization and its members are similarly focused on the local rules, codes and guidelines that affect property development and operations,” he says.

    The John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award

    • Jay Kriegel

    With his signature white scarf — and, in his later years, a matching mane — the late Jay Kriegel was a classic political operative. Cutting a dapper figure across the aisles for over five decades, he shaped New York City’s public policy — and its skyline.

    Prior to his passing in December, Kriegel was thrilled that he would receive this award for his exceptional accomplishments and public service.

    He was most recently a senior advisor at Related Companies focused on business strategy and project development, including the spearheading of the Hudson Yards project.

    At 25, Kriegel was a Harvard Law student when he was tapped to work with John Lindsay on the Voting Rights Act, Lindsay’s successful mayoral campaign and within his administration.

    Kriegel left his mark across industries. He worked for Loews Corp., founded American Lawyer magazine and lobbied Congress to require cable companies be paid by broadcasters and ensured city and state residents could still get tax deductions.

    He helped shape the New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics. He later worked on Barclays Center, the extension of the 7 subway line to Hudson Yards and Citi Field, the Mets’ home base.

    “We will miss his wit, humor and tireless dedication,” REBNY Chairman Bill Rudin says.

    The Louis Smadbeck Memorial Broker Recognition Award

    • Kevin R. Wang, KRW Realty Advisors

    The real estate business remains all about people. “It is still about relationships,” Kevin Wang explains. “It still takes human interaction to do leases, loans, sales and building.”

    Over his 40-year career, Wang has experienced all sides of the industry, from brokerage to management to the repositioning of assets including 501 Madison Ave.

    He is currently working on the development of The Hive, a two-building 140,000-square-foot office and retail project along Eighth Avenue near Times Square. “It’s a great contribution to the area and one of the last pieces to be renovated,” he says.

    Wang joined Cross & Brown right after graduating from Cornell University. His boss and mentor, Richard “Dick” Seeler, was the first recipient of the same Louis Smadbeck Award that Wang is receiving. Seeler was REBNY’s chairman and brought Wang in as a member.

    Wang now sits on the REBNY Board of Governors, is the Chairman of the General Meetings Committee and a member of the REBNY Arbitration Committee. He served as REBNY’s Co-Chairman of the International Seminar Committee from 1990-1995.

    Wang was the YM/WREA chairman and received both its Young Man and Senior Man of the Year awards. He also teaches at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate.

    Wang joined the Mendik Company in 1985 and moved REBNY’s offices to its current 570 Lexington headquarters. “We did a lot of renovation at Mendik, so I cut my chops on that,” Wang says. “These are still skills I use today.”

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    Alien life could already be hiding on Earth, top astrobiologist claims

    LIFE is pretty easy to recognise. It moves, it grows, it eats, it excretes, it reproduces. Simple.

    In biology, researchers often use the acronym “MRSGREN” to describe it. It stands for movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition.


    But Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut and a chemist at Imperial College London, recently said that alien lifeforms that are impossible to spot may be living among us. How could that be possible?

    While life may be easy to recognise, it’s actually notoriously difficult to define and has had scientists and philosophers in debate for centuries – if not millennia.

    For example, a 3D printer can reproduce itself, but we wouldn’t call it alive.

    On the other hand, a mule is famously sterile, but we would never say it doesn’t live.

    As nobody can agree, there are more than 100 definitions of what life is.

    An alternative (but imperfect) approach is describing life as “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”, which works for many cases we want to describe.

    The lack of definition is a huge problem when it comes to searching for life in space.

    Not being able to define life other than “we’ll know it when we see it” means we are truly limiting ourselves to geocentric, possibly even anthropocentric, ideas of what life looks like.

    When we think about aliens, we often picture a humanoid creature. But the intelligent life we are searching for doesn’t have to be humanoid.

    Life, but not as we know it

    Sharman says she believes aliens exist and “there’s no two ways about it”.

    Furthermore, she wonders: “Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them.”

    Such life would exist in a “shadow biosphere”. By that, I don’t mean a ghost realm, but undiscovered creatures probably with a different biochemistry.

    This means we can’t study or even notice them because they are outside of our comprehension. Assuming it exists, such a shadow biosphere would probably be microscopic.

    So why haven’t we found it? We have limited ways of studying the microscopic world as only a small percentage of microbes can be cultured in a lab.

    This may mean that there could indeed be many lifeforms we haven’t yet spotted.

    We do now have the ability to sequence the DNA of unculturable strains of microbes, but this can only detect life as we know it – that contain DNA.

    If we find such a biosphere, however, it is unclear whether we should call it alien. That depends on whether we mean “of extraterrestrial origin” or simply “unfamiliar”.

    Silicon-based life

    A popular suggestion for an alternative biochemistry is one based on silicon rather than carbon.

    It makes sense, even from a geocentric point of view.

    Around 90% of the Earth is made up of silicon, iron, magnesium and oxygen, which means there’s lots to go around for building potential life.

    Silicon is similar to carbon, it has four electrons available for creating bonds with other atoms.

    But silicon is heavier, with 14 protons (protons make up the atomic nucleus with neutrons) compared to the six in the carbon nucleus.

    While carbon can create strong double and triple bonds to form long chains useful for many functions, such as building cell walls, it is much harder for silicon.

    It struggles to create strong bonds, so long-chain molecules are much less stable.

    What’s more, common silicon compounds, such as silicon dioxide (or silica), are generally solid at terrestrial temperatures and insoluble in water.

    Compare this to highly soluble carbon dioxide, for example, and we see that carbon is more flexible and provides many more molecular possibilities.

    Life on Earth is fundamentally different from the bulk composition of the Earth.

    Another argument against a silicon-based shadow biosphere is that too much silicon is locked up in rocks.

    In fact, the chemical composition of life on Earth has an approximate correlation with the chemical composition of the Sun, with 98% of atoms in biology consisting of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.

    So if there were viable silicon lifeforms here, they may have evolved elsewhere.

    That said, there are arguments in favour of silicon-based life on Earth. Nature is adaptable.

    A few years ago, scientists at Caltech managed to breed a bacterial protein that created bonds with silicon – essentially bringing silicon to life.

    So even though silicon is inflexible compared with carbon, it could perhaps find ways to assemble into living organisms, potentially including carbon.

    And when it comes to other places in space, such as Saturn’s moon Titan or planets orbiting other stars, we certainly can’t rule out the possibility of silicon-based life.

    To find it, we have to somehow think outside of the terrestrial biology box and figure out ways of recognising lifeforms that are fundamentally different from the carbon-based form.

    There are plenty of experiments testing out these alternative biochemistries, such as the one from Caltech.

    Regardless of the belief held by many that life exists elsewhere in the universe, we have no evidence for that.

    So it is important to consider all life as precious, no matter its size, quantity or location.

    The Earth supports the only known life in the universe. So no matter what form life elsewhere in the solar system or universe may take, we have to make sure we protect it from harmful contamination – whether it is terrestrial life or alien lifeforms.

     

    So could aliens be among us? I don’t believe that we have been visited by a life form with the technology to travel across the vast distances of space.

    But we do have evidence for life-forming, carbon-based molecules having arrived on Earth on meteorites, so the evidence certainly doesn’t rule out the same possibility for more unfamiliar life forms.

    This article was written by Samantha Rolfe, a lecturer in astrobiology and Principal Technical Officer at Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire, for The Conversation.

    In other news, the confirmation of alien life may be "imminent and inevitable" according to experts.

    Nasa recently admitted that "tiny super-intelligent" aliens may have already visited Earth.

    And experts think a nearby moon is the best place to look for aliens.

    Do you think alien life lives among us? Let us know in the comments!

    Source: Read Full Article

    Tuesday, January 14, 2020

    17 brand-name victims of Amazon's counterfeit problem

    Amazon takes aim at fake listings; Lay’s hopes its new chips are music to your mouth

    FOX Business Briefs: Amazon is launching a new anti-counterfeiting program called Project Zero in an effort to better protect brands from scammers; Lay’s is launching three new flavors of chips inspired by genres of music.

    Amazon is expected to get more transparent about counterfeit products sold by third-party sellers on its platform, a person familiar with the company's initiative said.

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    Some luxury brands like Swatch have either backed out of plans to sell on Amazon or had no intention of selling goods on Amazon in the first place due to the tech giant's counterfeit problem, which has expanded in relation to an increase in third-party Chinese sellers on its platform as the company faces competition from the likes of Alibaba and eBay.

    While eBay's counterfeit problem appears to be more serious, according to numbers compiled by The Counterfeit Report, Amazon is significantly more popular in terms of market size and its impact on the American public. The tech giant, therefore, has come under heavier scrutiny than other sites that work with third-party sellers for its counterfeit problem.

    Steven Smith places packages onto a conveyor prior to Amazon robots transporting packages to chutes that are organized by zip code, at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

    "Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store — either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers — they will receive authentic products," an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed."

    APPLE, MICHAEL KHORS AMONG WORLD'S MOST COUNTERFEITED BRANDS

    "We investigate any claim of counterfeit thoroughly, including removing the item, permanently removing the bad actor, pursuing legal action or working with law enforcement as appropriate," the spokesperson said, adding that "over 99.9% of all Amazon page views by our customers landed on pages that did not receive a notice of potential counterfeit infringement."

    Allbirds shoes 

    While the percentage of counterfeit items sold on Amazon is small, a study by review tracker Channel Signal notes that "a half percent of 200,000 reviews is 1,000 reviews about fake product that consumers are reading," which is still a huge number that puts sellers and consumers at risk. Examples of brands that have been subject to counterfeit sellers include:

    A number of other fake name-brand items can be seen on The Counterfeit Report.

    Automotive company Daimler AG, which owns Mercedes, sued Amazon directly for selling counterfeit auto parts in October 2017. Williams-Sanoma sued the tech giant in 2018 for selling a furniture line with products that were "strikingly similar" to Williams-Sonoma's West Elm brand. A number of families and companies have sued Amazon for selling problematic hoverboards that have caused an estimated $2.3 million in damage, according to a December report.

    FTC TO CRACK DOWN ON FAKE AMAZON REVIEWS

    That's why Amazon has been holding meetings with government officials in recent weeks to tackle the problem, the source familiar with the program told Reuters in a report published Monday.

    A festivalgoer wears Canada Goose while riding the ski lift at Canyons during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 22, 2018, in Park City, Utah. (Rich Fury/Getty Images for Canada Goose)

    The tech giant launched Project Zero in the U.S. in February 2019 in an effort to identify counterfeit products and stop the sellers from profiting off sales of goods with fake labels instead of leaving consumers to the task.

    "Project Zero … empowers brands to help us drive counterfeit to zero by combining Amazon’s machine learning technology with the unique knowledge brands have of their own intellectual property," Amazon told FOX Business in a statement. "Using the self-service counterfeit removal tool in Project Zero, brands can instantly remove counterfeit from our store and this information is fed into our automated protections so we can more effectively prevent counterfeit listings in the future."

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    Amazon also launched its Intellectual Property (IP) Accelerator program in October, which offers sellers an efficient way to obtain IP rights and brand protection. Additionally, the company started another program to combat counterfeit products called the Utility Patent Neutral Evaluation Process, which will connect two sellers offering the same products — one patented and one counterfeit — and a third-party lawyer to solve the issue.

    Workers walk past boxes to be shipped inside of an Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, Nov. 27, 2017. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

    Additionally, Amazon's Transparency program "is an item-level tracing service where brands serialize each unit they manufacture with a unique code. Amazon then scans these codes and verifies the authenticity of the product before it reaches a customer. Customers can also scan the Transparency code via a mobile app to confirm authenticity and learn more about the product, such as usage instructions, ingredients, and expiration date," a spokesperson said in a statement.

    A number of brands including Nite Ize, Vera Bradley and Otterbox have also partnered with Amazon in successful lawsuits against sellers that sell counterfeit products.

    CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS

    To identify fake products, look out for prices that seem too low (for example, a pair of real Adidas sneakers likely won't sell for $20) and compare prices on Amazon to prices on brand websites; look at the name of the seller; and read reviews from other customers. Be skeptical of requests from a third-party seller to contact them before purchase, blurry or small photos of the product and sellers trying to convince consumers to click on a link outside Amazon.

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    Windows 7 users now in danger of huge hack attacks – you need to upgrade TODAY

    MICROSOFT killed off Windows 7 today, ending support for one of the world's most popular operating systems.

    As many as a third of PCs around the globe run on the software, which will no longer receive crucial security updates from Microsoft.

    That leaves millions of unsuspecting users – including those at huge organisations like the NHS – exposed to a legion of hackers and cyber criminals.

    Why is Microsoft killing off Windows 7?

    Microsoft introduced Windows 7 in 2009, but ended mainstream support for the system in 2015.

    That's because it was making way for Windows 10 – also launched in 2015 – which is still the tech titan's flagship operating system today.

    Windows 7 has only received crucial security updates for the past four years. These updates officially ended on January 14, 2020.

    Hundreds of millions of people will be affected as more than a third of PCs use Windows 7, according to NetMarketShare.

    What does this mean?

    Microsoft is bailing out of its cat-and-mouse game with hackers.

    That means if cyber criminals find a way to break into Windows 7, Microsoft will no longer fix it.

    Windows 7 users can still use their computers after Tuesday, but those who do will be at "greater risk for viruses and malware", according to Microsoft.

    Rik Ferguson, vice-president of security research at Trend Micro, told the BBC: "Running an unpatched machine means that the flaws in the code will never be fixed.

    "As exploits for those flaws become known and widespread, your chances of being successfully attacked grow very rapidly."

    What are the risks?

    Hackers can exploit weaknesses in operating systems to steal your personal and financial details or spy on you.

    In May 2017, the NHS was crippled by the WannaCry ransomware attack.

    Hackers broke into computer systems across the country, blocking doctors and nurses from accessing patient files unless a random was handed over in Bitcoin.

    A government report in 2018 concluded that the attack could have been averted if workers had updated their computers.

    Many were using PCs loaded with Windows 7 and, to a lesser extent, its predecessor, Windows XP, when the attacks occurred. XP  had long stopped receiving Microsoft updates.

    Tips to protect yourself

    Here's what you need to do…

    • So far there are no reports that a vulnerability has been found and exploited
    • However, it's important to protect yourself just in case
    • It's recommended that you keep automatic browser updates turned on
    • These should help to protect you from malware-loaded web pages
    • Always be wary of website links and attachements sent to you in emails
    • If something looks suspicious, don't click on it, even if it looks like it's from a trusted source

    What should I do with my Windows 7 PC?

    Security experts are urging Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 10.

    The newer operating system will set you back £120. Microsoft is still crafting regular security updates for it.

    The company said 10 works best on a new PC, and may not run smoothly on your old computer.

    "Going forward, the best way for you to stay secure is on Windows 10," it said. "And the best way to experience Windows 10 is on a new PC."

    To run Windows 10, your PC must have a 1GHz processor, 16GB of hard drive space, and 1GB of RAM memory.

    "While it is possible to install Windows 10 on your older device, it is not recommended," Microsoft said.

    What about businesses?

    Some businesses that are part of the Windows Enterprise scheme will still get Windows 7 security updates – but at an eye-watering cost.

    Those who don't wish to pay will need to upgrade to Windows 10.

    "As previously announced, Windows 7 extended support is ending January 14, 2020," Microsoft said.

    "We will offer paid Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) through January 2023.

    "The Windows 7 ESU will be sold on a per-device basis and the price will increase each year."

    In other news, iPhones have been ‘silently hacked for years’ giving crooks access to photos, texts and live locations, according to Google.

    Leaked Google sketches have revealed a secret ‘spy watch’ with a camera hidden under screen.

    And, here's all the Gmail tricks you should know about.

    Have you noticed any problems with Windows 7? Let us know in the comments…

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