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                      Frost's Business News digest
Tuesday 4th October 2011
Pushing yuan bill risks trade war  | China or the US? Make your choice  |   UK firm; Heritage Oil PLC buys control of Libyan oil field company  |   EU Ministers sweat on solution to continent's debt crisis  |   HM Treasury: lender of last resort to companies turned down for credit?  |   Dexia warning spooks global investors  |   No deal with Apple Australia on Galaxy Tab 10.1: Samsung  |  European politicians plot to block UK veto on 'Tobin tax'  |   Hellraiser: six flamboyant Branson publicity stunts  |   OSK Tight-lipped On Merger Deal  |   What to expect in new iPhone?  |   Islamic banks urged to boost short-term syariah-compliant products  |   Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bonus lags on phone, tablet results  |   Irish banks second worst lenders in EU  |   Oracle chief Larry Ellison: 'We can do what Autonomy does - but faster'  |  Tax havens: G20 has failed to crack down, says campaign group  | 

Pushing yuan bill risks trade war
China Today - 4th October 2011

 With chronic financial ailments and persistent high unemployment driving thousands of protesters to the streets in New York and 50 other cities, some US lawmakers are, tediously, again trying to blame the Chinese currency instead of addressing the real reasons for the country's economic woes.

After a procedural vote Monday, the US Senate is expected to debate a bill which, if passed, will empower US companies to seek retaliatory tariffs on goods imported from countries whose currencies they deem "undervalued."

If these US politicians, who have been inculcating their constituents with the idea that appreciating the Chinese currency is the panacea for American unemployment, successfully push through the bill, their moves are very likely to backfire, ramping up possible waves of trade protectionism that would favor nobody.

It's crystal clear that labeling China as a "currency manipulator" is just a cheap excuse for some in Washington to launch a protectionist war.

It is also unfair and unwise to try to make China a scapegoat for the economic problems of America's own making. The United States has to look inward to revive its economic growth.

In fact, no country would have a soberer recognition than the United States that drumming up trade protectionism in a time of global economic slowdown is the last thing to try.

Washington had learned that painful lesson back in 1930 when Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act to raise US tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods to record levels, triggering retaliatory tariffs by US trading partners and a global trade war, which prolonged America's economic recovery from the Great Depression.

Moreover, some US politicians' claim that a yuan appreciation could help to cut US trade deficits with China and create jobs for Americans has already been proven to be a false theory running counter to the facts and trade data over past six years.

Since China began to reform its foreign exchange rate regime in 2005, the Renminbi has already appreciated more than 20 percent against the greenback, yet the US trade deficit with China is still going up.

Meanwhile, despite yuan's rising value, the US jobless rate remained excruciatingly high.

The yuan bill's sponsors claim that it would help bring back outsourced US manufacturing jobs, but it's hard to believe that US-based multinational companies will move these jobs back to America, where labor costs remain one of the highest in the world, simply because China further appreciates its currency value.

So it is no surprise that many US business organizations such as the Business Roundtable have been consistently lobbying against such a bill. The Obama administration has also warned the Senate's move could lead to a destructive trade fight.

It's normal that China and the United States, like any two other countries in the world, have trade disputes, especially in an ever-globalized world. But the point is to stay rational and conscientious and hold negotiations whenever such friction arises, and avoid unilateral action such as pushing the yuan bill that would do no good to anyone.


China or the US? Make your choice
Gideon Rachman - Financial Times - 3rd October 2011

The defining geopolitical drama of the next century will be the battle for power and influence between China and America. That emerging struggle is already posing awkward choices for Asian countries, caught between the two global giants.

On Monday the US Senate was expected to pass a bill allowing for the imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if the protectionist drive in America now pauses for a while, this confrontational mood in the US poses a dilemma for China’s neighbours. China is now the largest trading partner for Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and most of the nations of south-east Asia. But these countries still have their most important military relationship with the US. How long can their economic and strategic interests point in different directions?

Not for long, if one is to judge by an editorial in the People’s Daily last week. The official newspaper of the Chinese Communist party took aim at “certain countries” who “think as long as they can balance China with the help of US military power, they are free to do whatever they want”.

The article was probably provoked by a statement from Japan and the Philippines, the previous day, in which the two countries promised to boost naval co-operation and implicitly disputed China’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea. But China’s warning could equally have been aimed at Vietnam, India, South Korea, Australia or Taiwan – all of whom have moved over the past year to strengthen military ties with America.

The irony, of course, is that it is precisely Chinese sabre-rattling, exemplified by that article in the People’s Daily, that is sending its neighbours running screaming into the arms of Uncle Sam. Until recently China seemed to be playing an intelligent waiting game – relying on its growing economic strength to draw its neighbours inexorably into a Chinese sphere of influence. Now the People’s Republic risks overplaying its hand – and so creating the anti-Chinese alliance that it both fears and denounces.

A more patient policy would make sense for China because it is likely to be the world’s largest economy by 2020. The US remains the world’s dominant military power – and is even the pre-eminent military force in China’s own Pacific backyard. But since political and military power usually track economic power, American hegemony in the Pacific Ocean may ultimately be unsustainable. It is this point that the People’s Daily was alluding to, when it warned – “No country wants to give back their ticket for the high-speed train of China’s economic development.”

With the US government borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that it spends – and China the largest foreign buyer of US debt – the Chinese are indirectly funding American military dominance of the Pacific. Even as America’s allies in the region move to strengthen ties with the US, they worry that America’s money problems will force the country to scale back in the Pacific. At the same time, China is building up its own military. American planners point to the development of a new range of Chinese missiles that directly threaten the airbases and aircraft carriers on which America bases its military dominance in the Pacific.

China’s neighbours are also worried by the country’s growing muscle – and its willingness to flex it. Over the past couple of years, China’s maritime disputes with Vietnam and Japan have taken on a new bitterness – with clashes on the high seas followed by bitter diplomatic exchanges. The Indians say that China is becoming more assertive about its claims to parts of Indian territory. The South Koreans are also jumpy about China’s relationship with the North.

The dark interpretation of China’s actions is that nationalist forces and the country’s military are becoming more influential in Beijing. A younger generation is coming to power, schooled to believe that China has been victimised by the outside world because it has been weak. The current contrast in the economic fortunes of China and America has also increased China’s confidence and assertiveness.

A more benign interpretation of Chinese actions is that the country now has a growing range of economic interests around the world – which makes it all but inevitable that it will spend a lot more on its military and will be tougher in asserting its interests. The hungry Chinese economy is dependent on imported energy – and would be vulnerable to a naval blockade. Building a few aircraft carriers and submarines, and pushing China’s claims to the energy riches of the South China Sea, might seem like a sensible precaution for the Chinese government – rather than the aggressive claim to regional dominance that its neighbours fear.

Yet even this relatively benign interpretation of China’s actions is not entirely reassuring. It suggests that China and the US are increasingly likely to interpret each other’s actions and alliances as threatening – and to respond in ways that then feed the other side’s perception of aggression. This is a pattern of great power behaviour that might ring a bell for students of 20th century history.

Yet amid all these tensions, diplomatic exchanges across the Pacific continue. Next month Barack Obama will host all the major powers of the region, including China, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit that will be held in the president’s native Hawaii. Perhaps Mr Obama should arrange a trip to Pearl Harbor to remind everybody of the dangers of strategic miscalculation in the Pacific.


UK firm; Heritage Oil PLC buys control of Libyan oil field company
Economic Times - 4th October 2011

LONDON: British company Heritage Oil PLC has acquired a controlling interest in a Libyan company licensed to provide oil field services including offshore and land-based drilling.

Heritage said Tuesday that it paid $19.5 million for a 51 per cent stake in Sahara Oil Services Holdings Ltd. Heritage said the acquisition will allow it to play a significant role in Libya's oil and gas industry.

Sahara Oil Services was established in 2009 and is based in Benghazi.

Heritage says it established a base in Benghazi this year and has been dealing with senior members of the National Transitional Council.


EU Ministers sweat on solution to continent's debt crisis
Charles Bremner - The Times - 4th October 2011

Euro-zone finance ministers wrangled last night over ways of boosting the firepower of the single currency's bailout fund after markets took another hit amid news Greece expects to miss its deficit targets.

The 17 ministers met in Luxembourg under the chairmanship of Jean-Claude Juncker, their host's Prime Minister, before a string of summits that could shape the fate of the single currency project before a G20 summit in Cannes on November 4.

Schemes for leveraging the €440 million European Financial Stability Facility were floated by ministers and the European Commission, with Germany and the Netherlands reluctant to expand their already big commitments to bailing out Greece and other weak members of the zone.

Olli Rehn, the Economics Commissioner, said: "We are reviewing the options to optimise the use of the EFSF in order to get more out of it and make it more effective as a financial firewall...leveraging is one of the options."

One possibility would give the EFSF access to sums possibly in the trillions of euros from the European Central Bank, officials said.

The mood in Luxembourg was darkened by Greece's admission on Sunday its austerity measures were failing to close the budget gap.

Draft figures showed the deficit would be 8.5 per cent of gross domestic product this year, above the 7.6 per cent agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The figures will be 6.8 per cent next year, compared with the 6.5 per cent goal.

Ministers put pressure on Evangelos Venizelos, their Greek colleague, last night but he insisted Athens had agreed to enough budget cuts and lay-offs of civil servants to ensure it would meet its targets.

"This procedure of fiscal and financial consolidation in the last two years is very strong and very fast and we are now ready to present results," he said.

Ministers reviewed the latest reports from the "troika" of international inspectors examining the government's books this week.

A decision is expected over the next ten days to approve the next €8 billion tranche from the €110bn bailout that was agreed last year. A refusal would trigger bankruptcy for the Greek state.

Wide differences remain among EU governments over the need to extend the writedown of Greek sovereign debt beyond the 21 per cent agreed in a swap for private bond-holders on July 21.

Germany is said to be pushing for the private sector to take a much bigger hit, possibly as much as 50 per cent, but France is resisting a move it fears could cause turmoil for its banks.

President Sarkozy is to visit Angela Merkel in Berlin on Sunday in an attempt to align the rescue effort by the two leaders before a potentially critical summit of European leaders on October 17.

In the meantime, pressure was being brought on Slovakia to arrange its parliamentary vote on the July 21 rescue package before that Brussels summit.

George Osborne will tell his euro-zone colleagues this morning to book no further delays in taking strong action to settle the currency crisis. The Chancellor told the Conservative Party conference yesterday: "The time to resolve the crisis is now. They have got to get out and fix their roof, even though it is already pouring with rain."

He also aims to voice Britain's growing alarm over EU attempts to regulate aspects of financial trading in a way that would penalise the City, in particular a move to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on regulating over-the-counter derivatives.


HM Treasury: lender of last resort to companies turned down for credit?
Hands up if you like the idea of civil servants, or even a publicly funded agency, deciding which firms are a good bet for loans of taxpayers' cash
David Prosser - The Independent - 4th October 2011

One of the first decisions made by the Coalition Government on coming to power was to cancel an £80m loan promised by its predecessor to Sheffield Forgemasters. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, explained that the Government did not have the money but that anyway, its job was to "create the right business environment" for private sector companies to flourish, rather than to "keep writing out cheques".

Less than 18 months later, George Osborne appears to have changed his mind. For the "credit easing" he announced yesterday is, on the basis of the vague briefing from the Treasury, an initiative that would see taxpayers lend to companies unable to get credit from traditional sources such as the capital markets or the banks.

For this, the Government does have the money, if only by a trick of the accounting regulations. Since the loans will be packaged as corporate bonds, which can be bought and sold on debt markets, they will count as tradable assets rather than spending that adds to the deficit in the public finances.

Still, neat though the trick may be, do not make the mistake of thinking there will be no risk of taxpayers making a loss. If the Treasury has to intervene because these companies can't find credit elsewhere, it seems fair to assume the bonds will sit on its balance sheet, shunned by those buyers who didn't want to lend in the first place. This means not only that it will be tough to recoup the cost of the loans by selling them on, but also that each time a company defaults on its debts, the public finances will take a hit.

We await the detail of the Chancellor's ideas, but at first sight, credit easing looks, at best, to be of pretty limited use, while at worse, it could be dangerously expensive.

Of limited use since, in the first instance, the Treasury would only lend to larger companies. As Mr Osborne's officials acknowledge, that's a theoretical offer, because large corporates are now mostly getting bond issues away. The Treasury would only step in were credit markets to freeze in the way they did immediately after thecollapse of Lehman Brothers.

Dangerously expensive because Mr Osborne thinks extending the initiative to small and medium-sized companies – the sector of the economy that says it finds it hard to get credit for investment – would help the development of a corporate bond market for these businesses. It might, but only after Treasury officials, or the officials of an agency appointed specially for the task, have been asked to start making judgements about whether or not to lend taxpayers' money to private sector firms.

Now, let's not pretend that Britain's banks always make the right decisions when asked for credit by SMEs (though the banks still insist that credit contraction is as much to do with a lack of demand as a shortage of supply). But hands up if you like the idea of civil servants, or even the staff of an arms-length but still publicly funded agency, making the call on whether company A is a good bet for a loan from the taxpayer.

Finally, an observation on a more positive note: it looks as if Mr Osborne's ideas are based on proposals made last month by the economist Adam Posen, who is best known for his doveish approach on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. Mr Posen calls the scheme British Enterprise Investment Equity – or Bennie for short. At least that's something to smile about.

S&P does George Osborne a favour
One imagines Barack Obama does not have many reasons to feel envious of Britain's Chancellor, but the President could be forgiven for wondering why Standard & Poor's has it in for him while continuing to cosy up to George Osborne.

The Chancellor must have been braced for the worst as he read the ratings agency's latest report on the UK economy yesterday. S&P began by predicting the UK would miss its official growth forecasts by some margin, continued by warning that private sector growth would not be sufficient to make up for the impact of public sector cuts and finished by concluding that the Treasury's expectations on deficit reduction will prove over-optimistic. With that litany of gloom, surely S&P would have to reconsider its AAA credit rating for the UK?

As we now know, that was not the agency's conclusion. Instead, it chose the day of the Chancellor's keynote speech to Conservative Party conference to give his Plan A some invaluable public affirmation. No doubt, Mr Osborne will seize upon S&P's praise as he makes his case this week.

S&P's analysts are, of course, deficit hawks, so to abandon a Chancellor who shares their zeal would no doubt feel like a betrayal, whatever the rest of their analysis tells them. Contrast that to the US, where S&P downgraded on the basis of its views about the political rowing over the deficit, rather than because of any real increase in the chances of a default on US sovereign debt (which is why the downgrade has been routinely ignored in the markets).

Even so, S&P's apparent indifference to the dangers of perceptions that its interventions are political – surely it would have been wise to avoid releasing this report yesterday? – is odd given its need to restore credibility in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Those who continue to worry that the Chancellor's focus on deficit reduction, at the expense of growth, may in the end lead to the ratings cut he insists his strategy is designed to avoid, might like to look up an analysis published by Danske Bank yesterday (though maybe like is the wrong word).

Its economists have just been through the UK's public finances using the detailed methodology S&P says it uses to assess sovereigns. On that basis, Danske says, the UK should not be rated AAA but A+ – four notches lower and on a par with Italy.


Dexia warning spooks global investors
Sydney Morning Herald - 4th October 2011

Franco-Belgian financial group Dexia called an emergency board meeting on Monday after concerns about its exposure to Greece and a Moody's warning about its liquidity position raised pressure on Belgium and France to act.

Dexia shares tumbled 10 per cent on Monday after Greece said its steps to avoid bankruptcy were falling short and credit agency Moody's raised concerns about the lender's access to funds.

Investors pegged losses among Wall Street banks overnight to the sharp falls in Dexia.
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The bank summoned board members for a board meeting late on Monday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Belgian and French finance ministers were also meeting together with other euro zone leaders on Monday evening. Belgium's Didier Reynders said the two states, both Dexia shareholders, would do all that was required to support their banks.

"Whether it is Dexia or another, we are following the situation day-by-day," Reynders told reporters on arriving at the Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg.

"To help the banks... the first thing to do is to help Greece. If you resolve the Greek problem you are a long way along the path," he continued, adding that Dexia was not among the most troubled banks in the continent.

The mid-tier bank has neverthelss one of the largest exposures to Greece among overseas lenders and has been at the centre of media speculation in recent weeks that it will split or needs another bailout, potentially from taxpayers.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Dexia's shareholders were keen to avoid a capital increase, but the group was likely to put a part of its French municipal lending unit Credit Local for sale.

Alex Koagne, analyst at Natixis in Paris said there could not be any demerger until capital was pumped in.

"An injection is needed so the bank can withstand losses on toxic assets," he said.

He estimated Dexia needed 5 billion euros in additional capital to have a 9 per cent common equity Tier 1 ratio under Basel III rules.

Dexia is not the only European bank facing a need for capital as regulations become tougher, profits sag and lenders face losses on sovereign bonds if the euro zone crisis is not resolved.

Banks face a 148 billion euro capital shortfall under a base case and a 227 billion shortfall under a stressed scenario, according to analysts at JPMorgan, who say Unicredit , Deutsche Bank , Lloyds , Societe Generale and Barclays each face a deficit of over 7 billion euros under its stressed scenario.

If banks are unable to raise the capital privately, government ownership of the sector could jump to 22 per cent from 7 per cent now, JPMorgan analyst Kian Abouhossein said in a note.

European bank stocks were down 2.6 per cent by 1056 GMT, with French banks BNP Paribas , Societe Generale and Credit Agricole , each down over 3 per cent.

Dexia, which received a 6 billion euro ($US8 billion) bailout from Belgium, France and other major shareholders at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, held 3.8 billion euros of Greek sovereign bonds at the end of June and had a credit risk exposure to the country of 4.8 billion euros.

Dexia's market capitalisation is only 2.5 billion euros, and its core capital is seen as insufficient to absorb big hits.

The company has taken a 338 million euro hit to cover a 21 per cent loss on Greek sovereign debt maturing by 2020, part of a plan agreed by private sector investors in July.

But with market prices indicating investors could suffer a loss of 50 per cent or more, Dexia's Greek bill could be more than 1 billion euros more.

Dexia Chairman Jean-Luc Dehaene said after a board meeting last week that neither Dexia nor its shareholders wanted the group to break apart and that it would continue to examine options to strengthen its balance sheet.

Dexia came unstuck when short-term credit dried up in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, since a large proportion of its long-term lending to public authorities was financed by short-term borrowing.

Moody's said on Monday Dexia had experienced further tightening of its access to market funding.


No deal with Apple Australia on Galaxy Tab 10.1: Samsung
Ross Kelly - The Australian - 4th October 2011

Samsung Electronics and Apple have "considerable" ground to cover before the South Korean electronics manufacturer receives the green light to sell its tablet computer in Australia.

Hoping to launch the Galaxy Tab 10.1 device in Australia in about a week, lawyers for Samsung on Friday offered Apple a deal on a patent dispute over the two companies' tablet computers.

"No agreement has been reached," Samsung's lawyer Neil Young told the Federal Court on Tuesday. "The parties are a considerable distance apart," he said.

Apple has brought a number of cases against Samsung in markets worldwide since April, claiming its smartphones and tablet computers have "slavishly" copied the iPhone and iPad. It has also filed suits in Germany, Japan, France and South Korea.

In Sydney, Apple is seeking a temporary sales injunction ahead of a final hearing that could go on for months. At stake is Samsung's access to the Australian market, where Apple has sold an estimated 500,000 iPads, according to a Credit Suisse report in June.

Apple has been pushing for an early final hearing and Samsung has previously said that it would prefer for a final hearing to take place next year to allow it more time to prepare. However, as part of the deal it offered to Apple last week, Samsung was willing to consider an earlier final hearing date.

Apple lawyer Stephen Burley said the company has requested more details regarding Samsung's offer and didn't reject it outright.

"There is no problem whatsoever, your honour," he said. The items of correspondence between them, which Samsung took as knocking back their offer, "were requests for details, not a rejection of the offer," Mr Burley said.


European politicians plot to block UK veto on 'Tobin tax'
A group of European politicians is plotting to impose the financial transaction tax (FTT) in a way that Britain would be powerless to veto, a British MEP has warned.
Louise Armitstead - Daily Telegraph - 4th October 2011

Dr Kay Swinburne, MEP and spokesman for Europe's economic and monetary affairs committee, told a group of regulators in Manchester that Britain was wrong to "relax" and rely on its veto to block the controversial tax.

She said a group led by Algirdas Semeta, the European tax commissioner, had "already started work" on presenting FTT as a valued added tax (VAT) - which could be imposed without being ratified by a vote and therefore strip Britain of its right to veto.

Under European rules, new taxes have to be agreed unanimously by all members but VAT can become law with a simple majority.

Dr Swinburne made the comments at a private breakfast at the Conservative Party conference which included representatives of the Financial Services Authority and Financial Reporting Council.

Mats Persson of Open Europe told The Telegraph: "Any attempt at circumventing the UK veto, and passing an FTT via the back door, would be a disaster for the UK and the City of London. Trying to get around the veto in this way is unlikely to work, but the UK Government still needs to be absolutely clear that this is a complete non-starter."

Last week, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, announced that the FTT would be proposed as a law for the first time as a way for the "financial sector to make a contribution back to society".

The move was criticised as a "tax on the City of London", where almost 80pc of Europe's financial services are based.

Since all European tax changes have to be approved unanimously, the British Government immediately said it would use its veto to block the tax unless it was "levied globally".

In his "state of the union" address, Mr Barroso said the tax could generate revenues of more than €55bn (£47bn) a year. He said: "In the past three years, member states have granted aid and provided guarantees of €4.6 trillion to the financial sector." He added: "It is a question of fairness. If our farmers, if our workers, if all the sectors of the economy from industry to agriculture to services, if they all pay a contribution to the society, also the banking sector should make a contribution to the society."

The European tax would levy trades in shares and bonds at a rate of 0.1pc and derivative contracts at a rate of 0.01pc from January 2014.

Dr Neil Bentley, the deputy director-general of the CBI, said introducing the tax was "completely misguided" at a time of economic uncertainty.

Dr Swinburne told the group of regulators that although Britain's engagement with European authorities was improving, there was still an urgent need for "constructive communications" over financial regulation.

"Few Europeans think that London does anything particularly well in terms of financial regulation," she warned.


Hellraiser: six flamboyant Branson publicity stunts
David Wilson - Sydney Morning Herald - 4th October 2011

Sir Richard Branson - hellraising publicistThe countdown is under way for the first Virgin Galactic space trip. Within a year, Virgin plans to launch a spaceship from Spaceport America: a purpose-built commercial astral platform now under construction in the New Mexico desert. A ride in one of the spaceships in Virgin's budding futuristic fleet will cost US$200,000.

Just to add to the theatre, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson has posed for the cameras as a spaceman in a giant goldfish bowl-like helmet.

Because he sees marketing as vital to the Virgin empire's success, he reportedly allots a quarter of his time to it - with spectacular results.

Viral virgin: memorable maverick marketing ploys

1. In 1998, Branson drove a vintage Sherman tank down New York's Fifth Avenue to introduce Virgin Cola to the United States. According to website entrepreneur.com, the “adventure capitalist” then fired a cannon at the Coca-Cola sign.

"Somewhere like America, you have to do larger-than-life things," the Financial Times quoted him saying.

Although Virgin Cola tanked, the stunt was one of his most dramatic.

2. Flirting heavily with death, Branson has embarked on many adventures by balloon and boat. In 2004, Branson won a place in the Guinness Book of Records by travelling from Dover to Calais in a high-speed Gibbs Aquada craft in one hour, 40 minutes: the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle. The cast of TV show Top Gear - Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond - tried to break his record in an amphibious vehicle which they had built and crossed the channel but failed to beat Branson's time.

3. In August 2007, Branson announced on the US comedy show The Colbert Report that he had named a new aircraft Air Colbert. He later soaked the political satirist and talk show host Stephen Colbert with water from his mug. Colbert splashed him back.

The interview then fell apart, with both laughing hysterically, as shown on the episode aired on Comedy Central on 22 August 2007. The interview was promoted on The Report as the Colbert-Branson Interview Trainwreck.

4. In October 2007, Branson set out to perform a bungee-meets-abseiling stunt to promote his new Virgin America domestic airline. Sporting a tuxedo, Branson climbed Las Vegas' Palms hotel. Before jumping off the roof, he gave the cameras a thumbs-up.

During the 100-metre drop, however, after tossing some plane tickets away, he was hit by a gust of wind. His backside scraped the side of the tower, ripping the seat of his pants. "I never thought I would take the saying 'flying by the seat of my pants' quite so literally," he said after the bruising event.

5. Increasingly drawn to filmic adventure, Branson starred as a Casanova gunslinger in a 2008 live-action production [called Andaaz Apna Very Hatke], which was filmed in a single, 20-minute take in India by music television station Channel [V], in association with Branson's cellphone network Virgin Mobile.

“And now he can add Miss India to his list of 'conquests', as he is pictured in an intimate embrace with Neha Dhupia during filming of a new Bollywood movie,” the British tabloid the Daily Mail said.

6. In April 2011, Branson appeared on CNN's Mainsail yachting show with Kate Winslet. Aboard Branson's boat, Necker Belle, they reenacted a blockbuster magic scene from the classic [1997] disaster flick Titanic. On August 21, in an unscripted sequel, according to the Daily Mail, Branson ran naked to rescue Winslet and her mother from the fire that engulfed his Caribbean paradise island, Necker.


OSK Tight-lipped On Merger Deal
Bernama - 4th October 2011

OSK Investment Bank Bhd is tight-lipped over merger talks with RHB Banking Group as it awaits the greenlight from Bank Negara Malaysia.

"We have not received approval from the central bank to start discussions. (Till then), I will confine the issue to just the information we are able to announce," OSK Investment's chief executive officer, U Chen Hock said Tuesday.

He also declined to provide any details, including, how soon OSK Investment expects Bank Negara to give its approval for the talks to proceed.

Last Thursday, RHB Capital Bhd and OSK Holdings Bhd had sought Bank Negara's approval, to start merger talks involving RHB's banking unit and OSK Investment.

U was speaking to reporters after launching the OSK Investment Challenge (OSKIC), a virtual investing competition, organised by OSK Investment for the second consecutive year.

He said the competition is designed to educate and inspire students on the workings of the capital market by providing an avenue for them to experience it first hand, as virtual investors, within a simulated stock market.

Bursa's chief executive officer, Datuk Tajuddin Atan was also present at the launch.


What to expect in new iPhone?
Hindustan Times - 4th October 2011

A new iPhone is expected to have a number of changes, the biggest of which will likely be under the hood: the inclusion of Apple's latest iOS mobile software, iOS 5, which has been slated for release this fall. IOS 5 will include things such as wireless device setup and content syncing, and beefed-up camera, email and Web-browsing apps.

A new service called iMessage will allow iOS 5 users to send text messages to each other over Wi-Fi or wireless carriers' data networks, while a folder called Newsstand will corral newspaper and magazine app subscriptions in one place to make it easier to find them. When it comes out, the software will also be available for Apple's iPad, iPhone 4 and 3GS and the two most recent generations of the iPod Touch.

A new iPhone is also expected to include Apple's forthcoming iCloud service, which will store content such as music, documents, apps and photos on Apple's servers and let you access them wirelessly on numerous devices.

As for hardware, a new iPhone isn't expected to look that much different from the iPhone 4, though it could be thinner and have a bigger screen. The existing iPhone is 0.37 inches (0.94 centimeters) thick and has a display measuring 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) at the diagonal.

An improved rear camera is anticipated, too. The existing iPhone has a 5-megapixel camera on its rear. A number of recently released smartphones have moved to 8-megapixel cameras.

One of the most notable hardware changes many industry watchers are predicting is the inclusion of a more powerful chip: Apple's dual-core A5 processor, which is the same chip it uses in its current iPad.

The iPhone 4 runs on Apple's older A4 chip, and the move to a more capable chip should improve things such as multitasking, opening apps and gaming.

Analysts also believe Apple could also use the event to trot out new iPods and updates to its iTunes music software, which it usually does in the fall anyway. Last September, Apple announced updates to iTunes and a line of revamped iPods, which included a version of the iPod Nano with a touch screen.


Islamic banks urged to boost short-term syariah-compliant products
Zurinna Raja Adam - Business Times - 4th October 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: Islamic banks in the country Malaysia have been urged to introduce more short-term syariah-compliant products to attract foreign investors.

We always have investors in Malaysia looking for syariah-shariah compliant products and sometimes, from the risk management perspective, because of due to the risk management perspective, they are constrained in putting their investment into investing in Islamic assets. that they have.

Hence, they will go abroad and invest in syariah-compliant products overseas,” said Amanie Islamic Finance Consultancy and Education LLC managing director, Dr Mohd Daud Bakar.

Local institutions, he said, must make products that take ing into account the excess money in the financial system, so the the money will be retained in the country.

"Liquidity is not a problem in Malaysia because we have many products that can absorb the liquidity in the Islamic financial intuitions. Investors in Malaysia are continuously looking for syariah-shariah compliant products,” here,” he said on the sidelines of the Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum 2011 (KLIFF 2011), here, yesterday.

When asked on the effective role that can be undertaken by International Islamic Liquidity Management Corp (IILM), he suggested that it for IILM to offered multi-currencies products, which are is more cost effective and beneficial to other countries.

IILM, which is expected to be in operation this year, is a collaborative effort by 11 central banks or monetary agencies and two multilateral organisations to assist institutions offering Islamic financial services address in addressing their liquidity management issues.

The IILM will issue short-term papers in international reserve currencies, such as the US dollar and the euro.

Meanwhile, in his speech, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin said in the midst of a gloomy economic outlook and the lacklustre performance by international banks, Islamic banks are still reporting positive growth.

"The industry must not miss the tremendous opportunity to establish a leadership role in the global financial landscape or to even realise its full potential within its primary Muslim markets," he said.

Global Islamic finance assets are projected to grow to US$1.6 trillion (RM5.13 billion) next year.

The Islamic finance industry has had a compound annual growth rate of 19 per cent from 2006 to 2010 and there are more than 10,000 publicly traded syariah-shariah compliant companies in more than over 40 countries.


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bonus lags on phone, tablet results
Economic Times - 4th October 2011

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer failed to clinch his maximum bonus for the second year running due to the company's slow progress in mobile phones and adapting to the tablet computer revolution.

Ballmer, 55, got a bonus of $682,500 for the latest fiscal year, matching his annual salary, according to a filing with securities regulators on Monday. Under his bonus scheme, he was eligible to receive between zero and double his salary.

The long-time CEO, who took over from Bill Gates in 2000, has been a lightning rod for criticism of the former technology leader's static share price. One prominent shareholder called for his ouster this year, but he shows no signs of stepping down.

Last year, Ballmer also received a bonus equaling his salary, and was faulted for the failure of the Kin phone and keeping up with new forms of computing.

Microsoft's latest filing said Ballmer's performance review for fiscal 2011 -- which ended June 30 -- took into account lower than expected sales of Windows Phone 7 software and "the need for further progress in new form factors," a reference to Microsoft's inability to counter runaway sales of Apple Inc's iPad.

It also pointed to a 2 per cent dip in sales at its key Windows unit, which was in line with global personal computer sales, but also shows that Apple's tablet is starting to eat away at the core PC market.

Microsoft is not expected to enter the tablet market in earnest until next year, when it releases its next operating system, code-named Windows 8.

In Ballmer's favor, the company's compensation committee recognized his success in launching the Kinect hands-free gaming system for Xbox and the online Office 365 product, while building up the Azure cloud computing platform and Bing search engine.

It also mentioned his work towards the purchase of online chat company Skype, which has not yet been completed, and partnerships with Facebook and phone maker Nokia.

Ballmer has long requested that he receive no stock compensation, which might otherwise boost his pay packet. He already owns 3.95 per cent of the company's shares and is the 33rd richest person in the world with a fortune of $14.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Overall, Ballmer's compensation rose only about 2 per cent from last year to $1.38 million, making him one of the lowest-paid leaders of a major US company.

Microsoft's filing pegs Ballmer's maximum possible compensation -- if he had received twice his salary in bonus -- at about $2 million, compared to an average of $15.8 million for CEOs of peer companies. In the filing, Microsoft said its board believes Ballmer is "underpaid for his role and performance," but accepted his request to receive no stock.

Ballmer's small pay rise comes as the company increases its sales, but is struggling to keep pace with the innovation of Apple, which is now bigger in terms of sales, profit and market value. In May, Microsoft's old foe IBM also surpassed its market value for the first time since 1996.

During Microsoft's last fiscal year, its sales rose 12 per cent to almost $70 billion and its operating profit rose 13 per cent to $27 billion, helped by strong performance from its Office unit.

Microsoft's shares gained 13 per cent in that time, compared to a 31 per cent gain in the tech-heavy Nasdaq, but have retreated since. The stock closed at $24.53 on the Nasdaq on Monday, around the same level as a decade ago.


Irish banks second worst lenders in EU
Niamh Hennessy - Irish Examiner - 4th October 2011

Ireland has been ranked as the second worst place in the European Union for providing finance to small and medium businesses.

This is according to figures from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, which revealed that the percentage of unsuccessful applications for bank credit in Ireland by smaller companies rose to 27% in 2010 from 1% three years earlier.

The highest percentage of unsuccessful applications was in Bulgaria at 36%. Ireland in second spot was followed by Latvia (26%), the Netherlands (23%), Lithuania and Britain (both 21%). The lowest was in Finland (0.2%), Malta (2%), Cyprus and Poland (both 4%) and Italy (5%).

The level of unsuccessful applications rose in 19 of 20 EU member states for which data was available. Unsuccessful applications fell only in Sweden (from 9% to 6%.)

Eurostat said the economic crisis has made it more difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access banking credit.

Mark Fielding, chief executive of small business association ISME, said small and medium enterprises are continuing to struggle without access to bank credit.

"The reckless bankers who have created the financial crisis, under the eye of Government, must not be allowed to terrorise business owners under the guise of newly discovered ‘prudent lending’," Mr Fielding said.

"The state, as the major shareholder, must insist on a return to ‘normal economic lending’ to business and must monitor this through proper, honest statistics and returns to the Central Bank. Up to now these returns have been incomplete fairy tales and subject to manipulation by the banks to suit themselves, as was pointed out in three recent reports," he added.

A spokesperson for the Irish Banking Federation (IBF) said a recent report from the Central Statistics Office showed that 74% of loan applications were fully or partially approved. The IBF said it and member banks are currently participating in the work of a Department of Finance Stakeholder Group which includes the commissioning of market research to provide further insight into the nature and extent of SME demand for credit.


Oracle chief Larry Ellison: 'We can do what Autonomy does - but faster'
Larry Ellison, the bellicose chief executive of Oracle, has landed another blow in his battle with Autonomy's chief executive Mike Lynch – by claiming his company can do what Autonomy can, "at the speed of thought".
Katherine Rushton - Telegraph - 4th October 2011

Mr Ellison last week accused Mr Lynch of telling "whoppers" over whether Autonomy had "shopped" itself to Oracle before agreeing its £7.1bn sale to Hewlett Packard (HP). He has now turned his attention on Autonomy itself.

It came as HP said it has completed its $10.24bn purchase of British software company Autonomy, a deal which contributed to the downfall of former HP chief executive Leo Apotheker. HP said 87.34pc of the stockholders of Autonomy had approved the offer for the company made in August.

The Cambridge company, which specialises in searching "unstructured" data, achieved its steep price tag largely because of the unique intellectual property behind its software.

It is able to search voicemails, texts and emails instead of ordered information such as spreadsheets, and is used widely in police and corporate investigations.

However, Mr Ellison threw doubt on just how unique Autonomy actually is – unveiling the "exalytics" server appliance as Oracle's own alternative.

Speaking at the company's annual conference, OracleWorld, Mr Ellison said: "I've been reading about this [unstructured data] in the press. I'm proud to say our Exalytics machine not only handles relational data, not only multidimensional data, [but] also analyses unstructured data at the speed of thought. Nothing is faster. There is no response time."

Autonomy's data retrieval take some time to process.

However, instead of casting a shadow over Autnomy, analysts and technology experts said that Mr Ellison's remarks suggested that he does not fully understand unstructured data and the problems with its retrieval. They said Mr Lynch may be right after all.

The Autonomy chief executive said in his slanging match with Mr Ellison that the Oracle founder's claim that Autonomy was "absurdly" expensive showed that his "understanding of the problems in the unstructured world is very weak".

It was one of the remarks that fuelled a blistering row between the pair.

Mr Ellison said Autonomy had been "shopped" to Oracle in an earnings call, but Mr Lynch launched a counter-attack in the Wall Street Journal, flatly denying that.

He said it was possible that "some bank" may have approached Oracle with Autonomy's name on a list of potential acquisitions, but that Ellison's remarks are "just inaccurate".

Oracle hit back, accusing Mr Lynch of "having a very poor memory or lying". It published a set of slides under the link "Oracle.com/PleaseBuyAutonomy" which the company claimed related to a meeting in April, between its president and head of M&A, and Mr Lynch and his investment banker, Frank Quattrone.

Mr Lynch countered that the April meeting was a relationship building exercise rather than Autonomy touting itself, and that a set of slides were prepared by the investment firm Quatalyst for a meeting in which he played no part. Mr Quattrone corroborated his statement.

Mr Ellison is known for loving a fight but it is also likely he is using Autonomy to have a dig at Hewlett Packard, a longstanding rival.


Tax havens: G20 has failed to crack down, says campaign group
Tax Justice Network puts Switzerland and Cayman Islands at top of league for secretive dealings
Felicity Lawrence - The Guardian - 4th October 2011

The tax haven infrastructure that has enabled global financial crime and malpractice to flourish has barely been reformed, despite a pledge by the G20 leaders in 2009 to close it down, according to an index published by campaign group the Tax Justice Network.

Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and the US are placed among the top of the league as the most aggressive in providing secrecy in the latest financial secrecy index.

The UK, with the City of London and a network of overseas tax haven territories and dependencies including Jersey, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Caymans, also features prominently in the index's dirty dozen of top offenders.

The UK Treasury said it did not recognise the picture presented in the index, adding that the UK government had demonstrated a clear commitment to tackling all forms of tax avoidance and evasion.

Two years on from Gordon Brown's G20 summit pledge to tackle tax havens and the role they played in the global economic crisis, TJN says there has been little real progress. It claims the role in the Greek debt crisis of endemic tax evasion through offshore centres is being downplayed because the big powers in the G20 – the US, the UK, and Germany – are also key beneficiaries of tax havens, as the index shows.

TJN director John Christensen said secrecy jurisdictions not only facilitated widespread tax evasion by individuals, but "have become a central feature of global financial markets, creating the environment for fraud, avoidance of financial regulations, market manipulation, and money laundering". The financial secrecy index is compiled from data collected by the OECD and IMF on flows of finance though individual offshore centres and on the extent to which jurisdictions co-operate with tax authorities in other countries. TJN also surveyed finance ministries directly about their tax agreements and disclosure rules to draw up secrecy scores. These were then weighted for the share each territory has of global offshore financial services to produce a ranking of most problematic havens.

Switzerland is ranked first since it has fought hard against EU efforts to expand automatic exchange of information and to tighten up on tax collection, preferring instead to sign up to weaker individual deals with the UK and Germany, according to TJN. Swiss banks are also accused of trying to counter crackdowns by the US on tax evaders using Swiss accounts by attracting new, illicit flows of money from developing countries to make up for what it has lost. "Although Switzerland has signed a number of OECD-style information exchange agreements, we consider these ineffective … it remains a major, active impediment to global financial transparency," the reports says. The Swiss government's department of finance declined to comment.

The Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory, is placed second. "It facilitates a huge number of opaque offshore companies and trusts which can be used to hide all manner of illegitimate activities," according to the index. A spokeswoman for the Cayman Islands' financial secretariat said the territory had taken an increasingly significant role in global transparency efforts in the last 10 years. She argued there were no secrecy provisions in the islands' jurisdiction that prevent information being obtained by the tax information authority which assists in international tax matters Luxembourg is accused by the TJN of being the "death star" superweapon in the world of tax havens because of its aggressive defence of financial secrecy and its resistance to EU efforts to close tax loopholes. It wins its place thanks to the sheer size and range of financial and secrecy services it provides, accounting for 13% of global offshore financial services, compared with Switzerland, 6%, and Caymans, 4%. The UK mainland has 20% and the US 21% of offshore services. The Luxembourg Bankers' Association dismissed the index as "yet another pseudo-scientific compilation of random data for the most part wrong or deliberately misused to reach a pre-determined conclusion".

"Luxembourg has signed all international treaties and plays by the same rules as any other EU member state," chief executive Jean-Jacques Rommes said.

Hong Kong, placed at number four, is said to be one of the fastest growing secrecy jurisdictions, thanks to Chinese economic growth and China's elites using the territory to evade tax.

The US, although not widely perceived as a tax haven, offers several "pernicious" secrecy facilities at the level of individual states. Delaware, for example, is increasingly used by large corporations for subsidiaries because of its very limited requirements on disclosure and for its favourable tax treatments.

Japan and Germany make surprise entries in the top 10 with growing illicit flows and tax exemptions.

While the UK is given a relatively low secrecy score and comes in at number 13, if the City of London were combined with UK overseas territories such as the Caymans and the dependencies such as Jersey which have greater secrecy, the UK would come out as top of the league overall in the secrecy index. A spokesman for the Treasury defended the UK record on tax havens, saying: "At the budget this year we published Tackling Tax Avoidance, on tackling avoidance at the root. The Global Forum on Tax Transparency set up by the G20 in 2009 now has over 100 participating jurisdictions and over 600 bilateral tax information exchange agreements have been signed. The world has changed over the past three years and continues to do so, and the government is committed to keep up momentum."

The problem with many of the new tax information agreements, according to TJN, is that they have taken the weakest form possible, in effect requiring tax authorities to know what they are looking for before they ask for information, rather than requiring full disclosure. It hopes the new index will act as an alarm call, and warns that there is a new public mood against tax dodging by the wealthy and large corporations.

"Despite promising to close down tax havens, the G20 has not dealt with the extent to which secrecy jurisdictions now permeate the financial world and have been the catalyst for financial crises by attracting huge sums of destabilising capital into offshore markets," Christensen said.

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