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Wednesday 20th February 2019  
Start Your Day With A Medley Of Financial News From Sources Around The World Courtesy First Citizens Investment Services
Caribbean Editorial / Commentary
International Weird News

Financial Indicators At A Glance

  TTD/US$ (First Citizens) Yen/US$ US$/EUR Crude Oil WTI(US$/bbl) Natural Gas Henry Hub (US$/ mmbtu) US 10 Yr Treasury Yield (%) US 90 Day T-Bill Yield (%) 3 month Libor (%) London FTSE 100 US S&P 500 Japan Nikkei TTSE Composite
19-Feb-19 6.7493 110.63 1.13 56.09 2.66 2.63 2.42 N/A 7,179.17 2,779.8 21,302.70 1,312.74
18-Feb-19 6.7993 110.62 1.13 N/A N/A 2.66 2.42 N/A 7,219.47 N/A 21,281.85 1,311.85

First Citizens Bank Ltd.

Symbol Open Price ($) High ($) Low ($) O/S Bid ($) O/S Bid Vol. O/S Offer ($) O/S Offer Vol. Last Sale Price ($) Last Sale Date Volume Traded Close Price ($) Change ($)
FIRST 34.32 34.32 34.30 34.32 4,575 34.50 300 34.32 19-Feb-19 380 34.32 0.00

Imbert: EU blacklisting ‘came out of the blue’

Trinidad Newsday - 19 Feb 2019

Finance Minister Colm Imbert says T&T does not agree with a blacklisting of this country by the European Commission.

He was responding to an urgent question in Senate Tuesday on how the recent blacklisting of T&T by the European Commission will impact day-to-day banking transactions with European banks. On Wednesday the European Union identified T&T, US and 21 other states that pose money laundering and terror financing risks.

Imbert said the US Treasury has scolded the European Union for including US territories on a list of tax havens or areas where there is money laundering and has told US banks to ignore the EU directives in a "very unusual technocratic spat."

He pointed out Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi issued a statement on February 15 on the issue in which he said he wholeheartedly agreed with the compelling reasons laid out by the US for the rejection of the European Commission publication.

These issues were that the Commission's process did not include a sufficiently in-depth review necessary to conduct an assessment related to such a serious and consequential issue; the Commission provided affected jurisdictions with only a cursory basis for its determination; the Commission notified affected jurisdictions that they would be included on the list only days before issuance; and the Commission failed to provide affected jurisdictions with any meaningful opportunity to challenge their inclusion or otherwise address issues identified by the Commission.

Imbert said: "The EU has arbitrarily and unilaterally included us and the US on this so-called blacklist. We do not agree."

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Dealers: Scrap iron industry on verge of collapse

Trinidad Newsday - 20 Feb 2019

The scrap iron industry is on the verge of collapse says the T&T Scrap Iron Dealers Association as their licenses to operate have been delayed due to a new requirement from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC).

At a media conference at Signature Hall, Longdenville, Chaguanas on Monday, association president Allan Ferguson said they were informed about the new requirement in late December 2018 although several prior meetings had been held with the EMA.

He said license renewals took place in January and a CEC took about six months before it was issued.

He claimed that particular ruling seemed to exist only for Chaguanas dealers as dealers in other parts of the country had been issued their licenses.

“Chaguanas has the most amount of scrap yards than other areas like Siparia, south, Arima and Tunapuna where our members have been issued licenses but Chaguanas is where the major yards are and most of the yards out of Chaguanas work for them so if you do that to the Chaguanas yards then that means you are shutting down the whole scrap industry.”

Ferguson said the export of scrap iron was primarily done by the Chaguanas yards which had invested millions of dollars into their businesses.

He said the association had instructed its lawyers to “remove our application from the (licensing) committee and send it to the magistrate.

“So that is what going to take place. And if the magistrate don’t grant us our licenses, well then we going to the Appeal court and if the Appeal court do not grant it, we will go to the highest of the highest and somebody have to pay because we not doing business since the year start.”

In a media release, the EMA stated the recovery of scrap metal falls within the scope of Designated Activity 37 of the CEC (Designated Activities) Order.

“As such, any person or entity who proposes to establish, modify, expand, decommission or abandon a facility for the recovery, recycling or incineration of waste, is required to submit an application for a CEC to the EMA for consideration, and receive said CEC before proceeding with the proposed activity.”

The EMA said when a CEC was received, the application would be processed to make a determination according to the statutory timeframes prescribed within the CEC Rules.

The EMA also cited Chapter 35:02 (EM Act) which stated that no person shall proceed with an activity which the Minister had designated as requiring a certificate unless such person applied for and received one from the authority.

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Fishermen protest: No gas, no vote

Trinidad Newsday - 20 Feb 2019

A group of fishermen protested with placards outside Parliament in Port of Spain yesterday over the rise in the price of diesel and the lack of supply of regular gasoline.

“No regular, no vote,” the group said yesterday.

President of the Independent Fishermen Union of T&T Robert Sagramsingh told Newsday the hike in the price of diesel and gas and the cessation of a supply regular gasoline was putting fishermen out of business.

He said those protesting yesterday were from Cedros, Bamboo, Chatham, Claxton Bay, Orange Valley, Brickfield, Ortoire Mayaro, Erin and Palo Seco.

Sagramsingh said his boat has been parked up and out of business due to the hike in diesel and the same thing was happening with pirogues.

“We cannot survive.”

He said he did not believe Energy Minister Franklin Khan that the country will not be able to bring back regular gasoline. Khan said in Parliament last week it would be impossible to supply the market with regular gas, at least in the short term, until the refinery becomes operational, hopefully later this year, or next year.

Sagramsingh said the fishermen have been protesting all over the country and the Government is aware of it.

“We have not been shown the courtesy or respect (of a visit), and not one has come and consulted one fisherman.”

He said the fishermen plan to continue protesting until they get a hearing and will continue to “push” and lobby against this Government.

“They have no conscience and no heart. That is the bottom line. They treat the poor people with no respect.”

Khan also said in Parliament after meeting with Agriculture Ministry officials the Energy Ministry will be meeting with fishermen in a matter of weeks.

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Stock Market report for 19 Feb, 2019

Trinidad & Tobago Stock Exchange - 20 Feb 2019

Overall Market activity resulted from trading in 18 securities of which 5 advanced, 3 declined and 10 traded firm.

Trading activity on the First Tier Market registered a volume of 239,322 shares crossing the floor of the Exchange valued at $1,812,009.23. NATIONAL FLOUR MILLS LIMITED was the volume leader with 60,500 shares changing hands for a value of $99,825.00, followed by JMMB GROUP LIMITED with a volume of 50,000 shares being traded for $87,500.00. NCB FINANCIAL GROUP LIMITED contributed 29,405 shares with a value of $247,002.00, while ONE CARIBBEAN MEDIA LIMITED added 27,582 shares valued at $286,573.60.

REPUBLIC FINANCIAL HOLDINGS LIMITED registered the day's largest gain, increasing $0.35 to end the day at $108.50. Conversely, SCOTIABANK TRINIDAD & TOBAGO LIMITED registered the day's largest decline, falling $0.12 to close at $63.53.

CLICO INVESTMENT FUND was the only active security on the Mutual Fund Market, posting a volume of 14,631 shares valued at $295,542.45. CLICO INVESTMENT FUND remained at $20.20. CALYPSO MACRO INDEX FUND remained at $14.00. FORTRESS CARIBBEAN PROPERTY FUND LIMITED SCC - DEVELOPMENT FUND remained at $0.67. FORTRESS CARIBBEAN PROPERTY FUND LIMITED SCC - VALUE FUND remained at $1.70. PRAETORIAN PROPERTY MUTUAL FUND remained at $3.05.

The Second Tier Market did not witness any activity. MORA VEN HOLDINGS LIMITED (SUSPENDED) remained at $12.00.

The SME Market did not witness any activity. CINEMAONE LIMITED remained at $9.95.

The USD Equity Market did not witness any activity. MPC CARRIBEAN CLEAN ENERGY LIMITED remained at $1.00.

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Digicel pleased with performance

Barbados Today - 16 Feb 2019 

After more than a decade of operating in Barbados and despite continued economic challenges, telecommunications company Digicel (Barbados) Limited, says it is pleased with its performance so far.

Acting Chief Executive Officer Katherine Payne said the company’s 15 years of operations here have been fruitful for customers, the country and the company, adding that Digicel would continue to expand its offerings and grow its operations in order to capture a bigger piece of the pie.

Opting not to give details Payne said: “LTE was one of our largest investments of late and our technical team and business strategy team are always looking at what is the next best thing in terms of not just the company but the country. While I have nothing to announce right now you can look out for things in the future.”

She was speaking to members of the media on Friday night at the Barbados Hilton Resort where the company awarded about a dozen winners with cash prizes, cellular phones, free months of service, plane tickets and a home entertainment system for taking part in its Christmas 2018 promotion.

She said the response for the competition was a positive one and that there was “nothing that we regretted with our Christmas promotion. It was very, very well received.” Barbados Community College employee Vercia Webb walked away with the grand prize of a brand-new Suzuki Swift. Other top prize winners were Debbie Brathwaite, a Liberty Store employee, who walked away with $20,000, and Barbados TODAY employee Maria Bascombe, who received two LIAT plane tickets.

Digicel customers had the opportunity to win once they top up, purchase a handset or SIM card, pay a bill on time or sign up for a new service.

Speaking on the progress of the company over the past 15 years, Payne said Digicel had played an important role in the development of the information and communication technology (ICT) sector here by breaking the monopoly.

“What this basically means is that as a country the average citizen can afford to have access to varying levels of communication, so it is not just about mobile anymore. Digicel is a full-service provider, we service not just mobile customers but home and entertainment. We provide now fixed line and TV services to our customers, and then full ICT solutions for our business segment. So it really has provided an opportunity where the country as a whole can expand when it comes to telecommunications,” Payne explained.

She said while the company did not yet have 100 per cent coverage of the island, she was satisfied that “the coverage is good” and was continuously improving.

“We have increase bandwidth from a home and entertainment perspective. For our corporate customers as well, we have one of the largest customer bases in the country. In fact, for most of the Digicel offices across the region we have been expending not just from a corporate space but into government as well. We have signed deals over the last eight to nine months in Dominica and other Caribbean islands,” she revealed.

“So Digicel is not just about providing mobile but about growing the telecommunications infrastructure of the country,” Payne added.

During the brief award ceremony on Friday night, Director of Consumer Sales Dionne Emtage delivered remarks on behalf of the company’s board director Ralph Bizzy Williams.

In that speech, Emtage said Digicel had played an exceptional role in Barbados and the region in providing “well-paid jobs for hundreds of people”.

“The impact on the economy of the island has been tremendous all because Digicel aimed to break the monopoly of a single operator to bring the price of communication down drastically,” she said.

Emtage also pointed out that Williams Industries benefited from the company as a result of partnerships.

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PSV workers to seek $15m payday

Barbados Today - 19 Feb 2019

Government could be facing a more than $15 million class action lawsuit from drivers and conductors fined within the last five years for not wearing uniforms.

This is according to a source in the industry, who revealed that the matter was the focus of a discussion during a meeting of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) over the weekend.

The source told Barbados TODAY that following Magistrate Graveney Bannister’s recent determination that the law pertaining to attire was absent of specific descriptions, operators are now on a mission to recoup fines as well as seek compensation for the resulting prison sentences.

“Over the weekend the PSV operators discussed filing a claim to recover the money that was taken from them wrongfully, which a brief calculation shows was in excess of $15 million. This [tabulation] is based on about five to six years because some of the operators have paid $500 to $1000 in fines. Some of them were imprisoned because they could not come up with the money. Therefore, a lot of them were imprisoned wrongfully and to my understanding, compensation for erroneous imprisonment equates to about $1500 per day,” the source explained.

Barbados TODAY understands that so far, several hundred operators and conductors have signalled their intention to be part of the legal action but it is expected that more persons will join, thereby raising the stakes. It was also revealed that while a legal opinion was sought, industry players are keen on retaining the services of former transport minister Michael Lashley QC, whose arguments last Friday highlighted the loophole which was reported in another section of the media.

“Right now a large number of the guys have been pushing to get Lashley to take the case because this is something we have been fighting for years and he was the first to get some success with it,” he said.

The former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) minister was successful in getting charges dismissed against PSV worker Andre Marlon Scott, who pleaded guilty to a charge relating to not being appropriately dressed and another of not wearing the required PSV badge. It was noted that Government’s printing machine was not working at the time and he therefore could not have been provided with an updated badge.

Lashley told the court that at the time PSV operators were permitted to wear grey polo shirts and that Scott was wearing one when he was reported last year. The lawyer had also argued that the regulations spoke to attire “approved Barbados Licensing Authority” and not by the Transport Authority and therefore the officer who reported the operator erred when he cited him for not wearing a Transport Authority-approved uniform.

When contacted APTO president Morris Lee confirmed meeting with operators and conductors on the matter. “A precedent has been set for inappropriate dress. So the repercussion of this is that PSV workers will certainly feel aggrieved,” said Lee, who noted that discussions were still at a very sensitive stage.

However he told Barbados TODAY that in addition to the possible legal action, operators have been presented with a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the public that they can operate without a legal big stick hanging over their heads.

“I want to inform all PSV workers to continue to dress in the appropriate uniform such as a cotton shirt, a long pants and enclosed shoes. I want the operators to demonstrate to the Government, the police and the public that they do not have to have legislation hanging over their head in order to dress properly. I also want to encourage them to make sure that they move all unsavoury music from those vehicles. This is a chance to show the public that you [PSVs] can provide a service while properly attired without the law hanging over your head,” he stressed.

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Gov't willing to wait on Venezuelan nod on Petrojam shares

Jamaica Observer - 19 Feb 2019

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says that the government is willing to wait until the Senate debate to withdraw the Bill for compulsory acquisition of Petrojam's shares held by Venezuela's PDVCaribe.

“Let me also state for the record that we have at all relevant times prior to this moment, made it clear to PDV Caribe that if it were to agree to feasible terms for the sale of the shares, the Government of Jamaica would suspend this legislative process. Despite our various efforts, we have not, to date, had success,” Holness said.

“I want to make it clear, that were they to sign the draft Share Purchase Agreement before this debate is concluded today, the Government of Jamaica would have been willing to suspend this process and sign the agreement as well. Furthermore, if they were to do so prior to its passage in the Senate, this position would still stand,” he added.

The prime minister was opening today's debate in the House of Representatives on the Compulsory Acquisition (Shares in Petroleum Limited) Act which seeks to enable the government's right compulsory acquire the 49 per cent share in the Petrojam Refinery owned by Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company, PDV Caribe, if there is a failure to reach a mutual agreement on the recovery of the shares.

He said that the Bill had been carefully drafted to achieve the primary purpose of assuring Jamaica's energy security, without threatening its free-market policies, its promotion of foreign direct investment or its belief in and appreciation for international cooperation.

Holness noted that the Bill provides for the acquisition of the shares in Petrojam Limited not held by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, and is not intended to be of general application to this or any other sector, or any other company in any sector.

“In fact, our Government is aware that if this Bill were not specific to the particular circumstances at hand, it could have been perceived as a potential dissuasion to investors on a whole. And so, we have been careful in this regard, to ensure that the Bill achieves the primary purpose of compulsorily acquiring the 49 per cent shareholding in Petrojam Limited, in the public's interest,” the prime minister added.

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Call to increase minimum percentage of shares to public for IPOs

Jamaica Observer - 19 Feb 2019

Part-time lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica Lloyd Wint has made an appeal for the minimum 20 per cent issue of shares to the public to be raised to 30 per cent for companies looking to list on the junior market of the Jamaica Stock exchange.

His appeal follows a number of oversubscribed initial public offerings on the Jamaica Stock Exchange over the past three years.

The stock market, which is currently recognised by Bloomberg as the world's best-performing stock market, amended its junior market rules in December 2017 to accommodate no less than 100 new participating voting shareholders who hold, in aggregate, not less than 20 per cent of the fully paid, subscribed participating voting share capital for companies looking to list on the market.

“What we have observed with the junior market, because of the 20 per cent limit that companies can sell to the market, you'll find that a number of potential investors are not getting enough shares because the IPOs are oversubscribed and closed within a minute after opening,” Wint said.

He was speaking at a symposium hosted by the Banking and Finance Department of the University of Technology, Jamaica recently.

The event, which was themed 'Growth and Development: Is expanding the capital market the answer?', brought together IMF representative for Jamaica Constant Lonkeng-Ngouana; associate dean for graduate studies at UTech Jamaica Dr Andrea Sutherland; chief investment strategist and head of research, JN Fund Managers Ramon Small-Ferguson; Small Business Association of Jamaica president and managing director of Jamaica Stock Exchange Marlene Street -Forrest; Group CEO of Jamaica Corporate Credit Union Robin Levy; and president of the Small Business Association Hugh Johnson under one roof to discuss the issue.

“We ought to consider increasing the number of shares that a new company coming to the market should have – maybe 25 to 30 per cent, so that more shares can be available to the market – and I think that will make the market more efficient,” he reasoned.

Recently, creative training institute iCreate Limited successfully closed its IPO for the issue of 74,062,500 ordinary shares, a day after opening to the market.

The offer, which opened on Thursday, January 31, 2019, was originally scheduled to close on February 14, 2019, but closed on February 1 after an overwhelming response from investors. The demand for shares exceeded iCreate's target of $70 million.

Before that, Fontana Pharmacy had its IPO oversubscribed by roughly four times its target of $468 million. The IPO, which opened at 9:00 am on Thursday, December 13, closed five minutes later.

“It is a double-edged sword. We are trying to encourage the owners to issue more shares, but they have never done it before and they want to ensure that, although you have to be over 50 per cent for control or takeover, it is steps that they are taking for the first time,” JSE's Street-Forrest said.

“It's something that we appreciate that's happening. We have looked at even other ways in which we think that the market can get a bigger slice, but it is a problem. We accept this as a problem and we just have to see how the market responds,” she shared.

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Consultations Continue On Market Redevelopment Project

St. Lucia Times - 19 Feb 2019

The Castries Constituency Council on Monday enjoyed a pleasant and positive consultative meeting with vendors of the provisions market.

The consultation was not the first with the vendors, and focused on the first phase of the Market Redevelopment Project which would result in the relocation of the provisions market vendors to facilitate the extension and construction of a covered vending area.

The covered vending area will not only provide shelter to the provisions vendors but will also improve the overall presentation, aesthetics and the quality of vending in the provisions market.

The meeting with the vendors was chaired by Communications Manager, Jason Hullingseed ,who spoke fully to the plans and vision of the Market Redevelopment Project.

Also in attendance and addressing the concerns of the provisions market vendors were His Worship, Mayor Peterson D. Francis, CEO Mr. Wilfred Pierre, and Chief Architect in the Ministry of Physical Planning, Mr. Augustin Poyotte.

Meetings were held with the Saint Lucia Air and Seaports Authority (SLASPA) and Holiday Taxi as part of the consultation.

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Haitians seek water, food as businesses reopen

Barbados Today - 18 Feb 2019

Businesses and government offices slowly reopened across Haiti on Monday after more than a week of violent demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise over skyrocketing prices that have more than doubled for basic goods amid allegations of government corruption.

Public transportation resumed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where people began lining up to buy food, water and gasoline as crews cleared streets of barricades thrown up during the protests.

Moise has refused to step down, though his prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, said over the weekend that he has agreed to reduce certain government budgets by 30 percent, limit travel of government officials and remove all non-essential privileges they enjoy, including phone cards. Ceant also vowed to investigate alleged misspending tied to a Venezuelan program that provided Haiti with subsidized oil and said he has requested that a court audit all state-owned enterprises. He also said he would increase the minimum wage and lower the prices of basic goods, although he did not provide specifics.

Many Haitians remained wary of those promises, and schools remained closed on Monday amid concerns of more violence.

“The government is making statements that are not changing anything at this point,” said Hector Jean, a moto taxi driver who was waiting for customers. He recently had to buy a gallon of gas for 500 gourdes ($6), more than twice what he normally pays, and he has been unable to find customers who can afford to pay higher fares.

“It’s very hard to bring something home,” he said. “I have three kids.”

Other goods in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation have also doubled in price in recent weeks: A sack of rice now costs $18 and a can of dry beans around $7. In addition, a gallon of cooking oil has gone up to nearly $11 from $7. Inflation has been in the double digits since 2014, and the price hikes are angering many people in Haiti, where about 60 per cent of its nearly 10.5 million people struggle to get by on about $2 a day. A recent report by the U.S. Agency for International Development said about half the country is undernourished.

Dozens of people on Monday stood outside a financial services company waiting to pick up money transfers from relatives abroad. Among them was 35-year-old Andre Simon, a taxi driver who had been standing in line for at least three hours and has been unable to work for more than a week.

“I don’t have anything at home,” said Simon, who drives a small, brightly colored truck known as a tap-tap. “I need that money badly.”

The latest violent demonstrations prompted the US government to warn people last week not to travel to Haiti as it urged Moise’s administration to implement economic reforms and redouble efforts to fight corruption and hold accountable those implicated in the scandal over the Venezuelan subsidized oil program, known as Petrocaribe. A Haitian Senate investigation has alleged embezzlement by at least 14 former officials in ex-President Michel Martelly’s administration, but no one has been charged. Meanwhile, Haitians have demanded a probe into the spending of the $3.8 billion Haiti received as part of the Petrocaribe program.

“Corruption goes unpunished, and people are just really tired of it,” said Athena Kolbe, a human rights researcher who has worked in Haiti. “I can’t imagine that things are going to calm down.”

She said she doesn’t believe claims that opposition leaders are behind the demonstrations or that people are being paid to protest as has happened in previous years given the incredible number of people that have taken to the streets in recent days. However, Kolbe warned that even if Moise were forced to step down, it would not resolve one of Haiti’s underlying issues: how to address corruption.

“People are just kind of exhausted with the business elite running the country and retaining control and not knowing where public funds are going,” she said.

Martelly hand-picked Moise in 2015 to be the candidate for the ruling Tet Kale party even though the businessman from northern Haiti had never run for office. Moise was sworn in as president in February 2017 for a five-year term and promised to fight corruption and bring investment and jobs to one of the least developed nations in the world. His swearing-in marked Haiti’s return to constitutional rule a year after Martelly left office without an elected successor amid waves of opposition protests and a political stalemate that led to suspended elections.

Moise’s administration previously set off deadly protests in July when officials abruptly announced double-digit increases in the prices for gasoline, diesel and kerosene as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to eliminate fuel subsidies and boost government revenue. At least seven people died in those protests, which also forced Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant to resign after facing a no-confidence vote in parliament.

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Fighting fires

Trinidad Newsday - 20 Feb 2019


In-between the old mas of Carnival, when blue devils and dragons spit flames, there is a real fire that is of growing concern to the authorities. All indicators point to a particularly harsh dry season this year. Over in Tobago, bush fires have already started. Are we ready?

According to divisional fire officer David Thomas, there has been an increase in fires in Tobago and the hike is already pushing the Fire Service to the limit.

“We may be responding to as many as 15 fires per day and this is quite phenomenal,” Thomas said. “At that rate, we are going to have somewhere in the vicinity of 450 fires for the month.”

All efforts must be made to ensure fire officers receive the resources they need to combat the situation. This includes proper gear and tenders as well as systems to ensure safety is kept paramount. Officers should not be in a position where they have to stretch scarce resources to the limit. Something like the death of senior forest ranger II Keith Campbell should never happen again. Adequate provision should be made by the Tobago House of Assembly and, where applicable, the central government.

In this regard, we welcome plans to construct fire stations at Black Rock and Roxborough as these are long overdue. While these new stations will not be completed in time for this year’s season, they will nonetheless supplement the stock on the island in the long run.

The population, too, has a role to play. Prevention is always better than cure. All should desist from starting outdoor flames or, where unavoidable, obtain proper authorisation to do so. People would do well to consider the $20,000 fine and six months’ jail that is imposed on anyone flouting the law.

The Meteorological Service has already warned that we are in store for a harsh dry season.

“Rainfall will be scarce as gold,” said the service in an unusually-poetic 2019 Dry Season Outlook report. “Every drop of rainfall and water counts.”

The Met Service has urged citizens to reduce or cut off lighting outdoor fires. But also it has advised that people should nonetheless make plans to deal with the effects these fires have. This includes having a plan to cope with poor air quality due to smoke. Such a plan could involve remaining indoors, keeping doors and windows shut, placing air-conditioners on recirculation mode and keeping car vents and windows closed while driving. It is also important to prepare for extreme heat, and for water shortages. Water conservation and appropriate usage are key.

The damage caused by bush fires is not limited to destruction of flora and fauna and the loss of wildlife habitat. These fires also make flooding in the rainy season more likely. We therefore need to prepare.

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Bernie Sanders Isn’t Going Anywhere

Bloomberg - 20 Feb 2019

By Jonathan Bernstein

Senator Bernie Sanders surprised no one on Tuesday by announcing his presidential candidacy. But I’m more negative about his chances than most.

It’s true that Sanders continues to do fairly well in various pundit rankings – coming in eighth recently in the Washington Post’s list, sixth in CNN’s – and currently is in second place in the PredictIt betting market. He’s also second in national horse-race polls.

So why am I down on his chances?

For one thing, although Sanders won an impressive 43 percent of the vote in the 2016 primaries, there was a lot of air in that total. Some of those votes came from people (including conservative Democrats) who just didn’t like Hillary Clinton, and some came from those who thought Clinton was the inevitable nominee and hoped that a vote for Sanders could push her in a more liberal direction.

Polling for 2020 supports that conclusion. Sanders has only been reaching about 20 percent in horse-race polls – despite extremely strong name recognition for him and low name recognition for the rest of the field (other than former Vice President Joe Biden).

But the main reason to discount Sanders is that he’s always been a factional politician, and since 1984 Democrats have always nominated coalition-building candidates. (So have Republicans, with the exception of 2016.) On top of that, Sanders is a bad match for the demographic profile that Democrats seem to be looking for these days.

Nevertheless, Sanders had a good day on Tuesday. He raised more than $4 million, far exceeding what other candidates have so far pulled in from their announcements. He won an immediate endorsement from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who had backed Clinton in the 2016 nomination contest. And he signed a campaign manager with deep experience in the party, a strong contrast with the highly factional organization he built the last time around.

There’s obviously a long way to go in what is still a wide-open contest. Even so, I’m not convinced that Sanders is a top-five, or even top-10, candidate. Perhaps a solid roll-out makes it less likely that he’ll wind up (as I’ve suspected) like Senator Gene McCarthy, whose followers from an insurgent 1968 campaign deserted him in 1972 for Senator George McGovern and other antiwar candidates. But I’m guessing that Democrats will wind up nominating someone broadly acceptable to most party groups.

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U.S.-China trade hopes extend equity surge; central banks supportive

Reuters - 19 Feb 2019

World stocks hit a four-month high on Wednesday on hopes of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, with a dovish backdrop at major central banks also helping push markets back into the black.

U.S. President Donald Trump said negotiations with China were going well and suggested he was open to extending the deadline to complete them beyond March 1.

Up to now, it was assumed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal was reached by then.

Asian shares soared on Trump’s comment, and European stock indices also strengthened, with a pan-European index gaining 0.3 percent, pushing the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, to a four-month high.

U.S. stock futures suggested that Wall Street would hold on to Tuesday’s strong gains, and open about flat. [.N]

“I’d say the market is very much pricing in a deal at this stage, and there’s some merit to this as I don’t think you engage in such a solid period of talks over a number of weeks unless you feel you are getting somewhere,” said Craig Erlam, chief market analyst at OANDA, an FX brokerage.

“The talk of an extension suggests Trump is positive about the direction of travel.”

He added, however, that the market remains vulnerable to any further setbacks.


While hopes for a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies are seen as the primary driver for world stocks, dovish central bank messages are also playing a part.

New York Fed President John Williams on Tuesday said he was comfortable with the level U.S. interest rates were at and that he saw no need to raise them again unless economic growth or inflation shifted to an unexpectedly higher gear.

Investors are also looking to the release on Wednesday of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s January meeting, at which policymakers effectively signaled no further rate hikes and possible tweaks to its balance sheet normalization.

In Europe, expectations have been growing that the European Central Bank will restart a program to provide long-term cheap loans to banks to boost a faltering economy, while the Bank of Japan has flagged its readiness to ease further.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose as much as 1.1 percent to mark its highest levels since Oct. 2.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained as much as 1.3 percent to six-month highs, while Korea’s Kospi and Taiwan’s index recovered to levels last seen in early October. Japan’s Nikkei added 0.6 percent to two-month highs.

On currency markets, the dollar steadied against a basket of major currencies, after suffering its biggest one-day loss of the month on Tuesday. It had also recorded big slides against the euro and sterling.

The greenback strengthened 0.2 percent against the yen after Japan recorded its biggest annual drop in exports in January for more than two years, and on recent dovish Bank of Japan signals.

Markets were also focused on newsflow on the Brexit front, with sterling holding most of its gains following a 1 percent surge on Tuesday as British Prime Minister Theresa May headed to Brussels to try push negotiations forward.

The yuan rose as much as 0.6 percent against the dollar, its biggest intra-day gain in more than a month, after Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the United States was seeking to secure a pledge from China that it will not devalue the currency as part of a trade deal.

Oil prices came off 2019 highs, hit by U.S. production and expectations of an economic slowdown. [O/R]

International Brent crude futures dropped 0.65 percent at $66.02 per barrel, having hit a three-month high of $66.83 per barrel earlier this week, supported by OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela.

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Goldman Sachs backs U.S. construction finance tech startup Rabbet

Reuters - 20 Feb 2019

Goldman Sachs Group Inc has backed Rabbet, a U.S. startup that develops software to help make construction finance more efficient, the companies said on Wednesday.

Other investors in the $8 million round include QED Investors and Camber Creek, the companies said.

Rabbet, formerly known as Contract Simply, will use the funding to further develop its platform and grow its software engineering and sales team, the company said.

Rabbet’s platform helps companies involved in construction finance — such as banks, developers, and contractors — digitize and view documents relevant to a deal. The process is currently heavily manual and paper-based, making it time consuming and prone to errors.

Rabbet’s technology uses machine learning to automatically find and extract key information from documents, in a format that can be more easily analyzed by the parties involved.

The Austin, Texas-based company says the platform enables lenders and developers to gather more insight from the information they have and transact faster than by emailing each other spreadsheets and PDFs.

“All this information is trapped in disconnected PDFs, spreadsheets, emails,” Will Mitchell, Rabbet’s chief executive and co-founder, said in an interview. “We want to focus on the efficiency, accuracy and transparency that software can bring to this complex industry.”

Goldman’s investment comes as banks and other large financial institutions increasingly turn to fintech startups for technology that can help them streamline some of their processes.

Mitchell said Goldman’s construction finance division was using Rabbet’s software.

“We firmly believe construction finance is going to be automated and brought out of its decades-old, paper-ridden process,” David Bell, managing director of Goldman Sachs’ construction group, said in an interview. “Rabbet is the only solution we’ve seen that can handle the complexity of this transition.”

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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at "disastrous Brexit"

Reuters - 20 Feb 2019

Three pro-EU lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.

The lawmakers, long critical of May’s Brexit strategy to leave the EU which they believe is being driven by Conservative eurosceptics, said in a statement they would join a new group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.

May said she was saddened by the resignations, but signaled she would press on with her attempts to win a deal before Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29.

But the resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when eurosceptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement that both sides say offers the worst of all worlds.

They could also undermine May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she is going later on Wednesday for talks with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to secure an opening for further technical work on revising the agreement.

With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.

“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a statement.

“We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP,” they said, referring to a group of Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up the government in parliament.

May acknowledged that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time” adding that leaving the bloc “was never going to be easy”.

“But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future,” she said.


The three said they would now sit with a new grouping in parliament that broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.

Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.

For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another blow to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.

Britain’s 2016 EU referendum, when 52 percent voted to leave versus 48 to remain, has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.

Trying to unite her party around her Brexit plan has been a difficult balancing act for the prime minister. Eurosceptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.

Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far towards Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.

But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team may get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.

The “backstop”, an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if the Brexit negotiations fail to come up with a future relationship to prevent it, is the main point of contention in ongoing talks with Brussels.

British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.

But May’s argument that she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker every day. A government defeat by eurosceptics on a symbolic vote last week showed their muscle, while the departure of some pro-EU lawmakers also undermines her position.

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North Korea's Kim shuffles nuclear talks team after defections, spying allegations

Reuters - 20 Feb 2019

Veteran North Korean diplomats are being sidelined from nuclear talks ahead of a second summit with the United States as recent defections and allegations of spying undermine the trust of leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean officials and experts say.

Kim has purged and replaced many top diplomats and officials who served his father and grandfather with new, younger advisors as he gears up to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam next week.

Among the most significant changes, Kim has appointed little-known Kim Hyok Chol to spearhead working-level talks with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun.

A former ambassador to Spain who was expelled in 2017 after North Korean nuclear and missile tests, Kim Hyok Chol has been working at the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by the young leader, a South Korean official said.

He replaced Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who led negotiations in the run up to the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June.

“It’s a big boys’ game and many diplomats are being neglected, as they face fierce inter-agency rivalry and questions about their ideological faithfulness given their experience in richer, capitalist nations,” the South Korean official said, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“Kim Hyok Chol is a career diplomat too, but he apparently has passed a loyalty test to become the point man in the negotiations.”


The promotion of Kim Hyok Chol, believed to be in his late 40s, was partly influenced by the 2016 defection of Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to Britain, and the recent disappearance of Jo Song Gil, a senior diplomat in Italy, the official said.

Adding to Kim Jong Un’s mistrust in veteran diplomats, Han Song Ryol, who was vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. relations until early last year, has been purged on charges of spying for the United States, two sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

Han was one of the best known and highly respected North Korean diplomats in the United States, having for years manned the so-called “New York channel,” a key diplomatic conduit between Pyongyang and Washington, before returning home in 2013.

But Han has been out of the public eye for the past year, with state media last mentioning him in February 2018.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry removed his name in its annual ‘Who’s Who’ in North Korea directory, released last month.

A diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters, citing North Korean officials, Han was purged last year after being accused of spying for the United States and pocketing funds.

Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre who regularly speaks with sources inside the country, said two people told him Han faced “espionage charges” and disappeared last July.

Thae also said Han had been purged, which means he was likely to have been sent to a labor camp for reeducation or possibly executed.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper also reported last month, citing an unnamed source, that Han was sent to a labor camp after making an unspecified proposal on the nuclear talks against the ruling Workers’ Party’s guidelines.

An official at the Unification Ministry said the information on Han could not be confirmed.

“There were financial problems, but the biggest thing was his spy allegation. Several other diplomats, especially those who were close to Han, were investigated,” said the first source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.


In a 2017 report based on interviews with 20 elite defectors, the North Korea Strategy Centre, a defector-run think tank in Seoul, said more than 70 officials have been executed since Kim took power in late 2011.

Thae said at least 10 diplomats were killed under Kim, and replaced by younger aides and loyalists. Many other diplomats and officials have been sidelined.

In a Facebook post last week, Russia’s Embassy in North Korea confirmed Kwon Jong Gun was the new director of the foreign ministry’s North America Department, a post that has been vacant since Choe became a vice foreign minister.

Choe’s boss, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, a former nuclear envoy who was widely expected to be U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s counterpart, has never had a chance to show his credentials as Kim continued to rely on Kim Yong Chol, a former spymaster specialized in inter-Korean affairs.

Thae, the former diplomat in London, said the unorthodox new breed of negotiators was aimed at driving a wedge between the free-wheeling Trump and his team of technocrats, who were mostly cautious and skeptical about North Korea’s claims of pursuing denuclearization.

“North Korea’s diplomacy has taken an unprecedented tactical course, which is tailor made for Trump,” Thae told a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday.

“By appointing Kim Hyok Chol, Kim Jong Un was trying to give the impression that there’s no one between them, so that Trump will talk to him and shut his ears to his own staff.”

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Oil dips after forecast for record U.S. shale output

Reuters - 19 Feb 2019

Crude oil futures eased on Wednesday in light of the prospect of a continued boom in U.S. shale oil output, although with OPEC determined to restrict its own production to prevent a global surplus of unused fuel, the price held just shy of 2019 highs.

Brent futures were at $66.14 a barrel, down 31 cents on the day by 1049 GMT, still within sight of Monday’s high for the year of $66.83. U.S. futures were at $55.88 a barrel, down 21 cents, having touched a 2019 peak of $56.39 earlier.

“Brent is trading in a narrow corridor at around $66.5 per barrel, while WTI is at around $56,” Commerzbank analysts said in a note.

“This still leaves them within spitting distance of the three-month high they achieved at the start of the week ... It seems that the sharp rise in oil production in the U.S. is having a slowing effect after all.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report on Tuesday shale production alone will hit a record 8.4 million barrels per day next month, suggesting little chance of a near-term slowdown in overall U.S. crude output.

The oil price has risen by more than 20 percent so far this year, supported largely by an agreed 1.2 million bpd production cut by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and several other major exporters such as Russia.

U.S. sanctions on the energy sectors of Iran and Venezuela have added to the drop in availability of the kind of crude oil that yields more valuable middle distillates, rather than cheaper fuels, such as gasoline.

Despite the sanctions, Iran’s crude exports were higher than expected in January, averaging around 1.25 million bpd, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. Many analysts had expected Iran oil exports to drop below 1 million bpd after the imposition of U.S. sanctions last November, although it was much below the peak 2.5 million bpd reached mid-2018.

Barclays said U.S. sanctions meant “although there is no lack of resources, there is an increasing lack of access to them”.

BNP Paribas said surging U.S. output would feed into lower oil prices toward the end of the year, with Brent to dip to an average of $67 a barrel by the fourth quarter and WTI to average $61.

“U.S. oil production growth, driven by shale, will be increasingly exported in greater volumes to international markets while the global economy is expected to witness a synchronized slowdown in growth,” the bank said.

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Changes in the Agricultural Business

Central American Data- 18 Feb 2019

Last year, Guatemalan banana exports totaled $815 million, 4% more than the $782 million reported in 2017, a rise that is partly caused by the increase in the cultivated area in the country.

Mario Yarzebski, international marketing manager for Palo Blanco, explained to that "... part of the land occupied by sugar cane has changed to banana and African palm, and responds why this crop is more profitable, which coincided with the fall in the price of sugar on a global scale. The planting of the fruit is very versatile, which achieved more production in the market."

Yarzebski added that "... This phenomenon was marked in the South Coast, where small and medium fruit producers were also added. The banana and plantain producers market the product with the main firms to the United States, but markets are emerging in Europe."

The critical situation of sugar is not exclusive to Guatemalan producers, since at the beginning of 2019 it was reported that the fall that international grain prices have been suffering in recent years increasingly affects Central American businessmen, who with current prices do not even cover production costs.

CentralAmericaData reports state that:

-Banana: Increases in the prices of exports from Central America have been reported in recent years, since between September 2016 and March 2018, the average price increased from $0.40 to $0.43 per kilogram.

-Regarding palm oil exports, after the period between January 2012 and February 2016, the average price of Central American exports reported a 49% drop, falling from $1.05 per kilo to $0.54 per kilo, in recent years this trend has begun to reverse, rising from $0.57 per kilo registered in March 2016, to $0.64 per kilo in June 2018.

-With respect to the drop in the international price of sugar, it is detailed that between January 2012 and March 2018, the average price of Guatemalan exports of raw sugar reported a downward trend, falling from $0.58 to $0.34 per kilo, representing a 42% decline.

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Petrobras hires Santander to revive LPG unit sale

Reuters - 19 Feb 2019

Brazil oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA has hired the investment banking unit of Banco Santander Brasil SA to revive efforts to sell its liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution unit, four sources with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

Petrobras, as the state-controlled company is known, had agreed in 2016 to sell Liquigas Distribuidora SA to local rival Ultrapar Participações SA in a process managed by the investment banking unit of Itau Unibanco Holding SA.

This 2.8 billion-real ($753.86 million) deal was blocked by Brazil’s antitrust watchdog CADE in February 2018.

Petrobras, Santander Brasil and Itau did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Petrobras’ new Chief Executive Roberto Castello Branco has committed to accelerating asset sales and reducing the company’s dominance in areas such as refining.

Petrobras announced last December it would seek to sell $26.9 billion in assets between 2019 and 2023, after it missed a $21 billion divestment target for 2017-2018.

Petrobras’ asset sale program has been targeted by court decisions, including some by the Supreme Court, requiring Congressional approval for some processes. The next expected divestiture is the sale of gas pipeline network TAG, which is in its final stages.

The new Liquigas sale process will focus on offering Liquigas to investment funds or private equity firms which have oil and gas arms, one of the sources said, as a way to avoid new antitrust hurdles.

Petrobras had also considered an initial public offering of Liquigas soon after the Ultrapar deal was blocked by CADE, Reuters reported at the time.

Other strategic bidders that were competing for Liquigas in 2016, such as local rivals Copagaz and Supergasbras, controlled by SHV Energy, and Turkey’s Aygaz, placed lower bids than Ultrapar, sources with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

($1 = 3.7142 reais)

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Argentina's billion-dollar buying spree reins in peso, rates

Reuters - 19 Feb 2019

Argentina’s central bank, looking to rein in a stronger peso, has snapped up close to 1 billion U.S. dollars in the last month, helping trim back sky-high interest rates and top up dollar reserves that could combat economic and political uncertainty as an election fight starts to brew.

The bank has bought $978 million since first intervening in the market last month to keep the peso within a trading band agreed with the International Monetary Fund, though it paused its buying late last week as the currency weakened.

Indeed, the currency fell 1.25 percent on Tuesday to 39.29 per U.S. dollar, its weakest close since early October.

Argentina spent many billions of dollars last year propping up the peso, which lost half of its value against the dollar as Argentina was battered by what President Mauricio Macri described as “storms.”

After a calmer start to 2019, analysts and investors fear these uncertainties could revive, hitting the peso, as political opponents begin to mount a challenge to the center-right Macri ahead of national elections in October.

The stronger peso, which has regularly pushed outside the agreed trading band this year, has given the bank an unexpected opportunity, letting it dip into the market and stock up on dollars, in the process weakening the currency back on track.

The trading band, which came into effect in October as part of a $56.3 billion deal Macri agreed with the IMF, was meant to curb central bank intervention unless there was “extreme overshooting of the exchange rate.”

The dollar buying spree could come in handy as Macri now battles to revive the economy ahead of elections, where he is facing a challenge from left-leaning former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

“The recent buying by the central bank has been an opportunity to increase the reserves and could help as more people convert to dollars as the elections get closer,” said Christian Reos, research head at Allaria Ledesma.

Most analysts expect the peso to lose strength ahead of the elections, as people trade their pesos for the safety of the dollar and uncertainties rise over the country’s political future in general.

Macri’s rivals are likely to take a different tack on the economy and may look to renegotiate the IMF deal.

If the peso weakens, dollar reserves would help to prop the currency up. The peso has started to weaken this month and hit a near three-month low against the dollar on Monday.

Gustavo Ber, Buenos Aires-based economist at consultancy Estudio Ber, said the dollar buying had also helped push down rates on the central bank’s benchmark short-term “Leliq” notes, which have fallen 30 percentage points since an October peak.

The central bank needs to bring down rates to lure businesses to take out more loans and help revive a stalled economy because many companies cut back on spending after Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, dipped into recession last year.

“(Lowering the rates) could help give some air to the beleaguered economy,” said Ber.

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Australia to roll out emojis on license plates

Fox News - 20 Feb 2019   

Some areas of Australia will soon allow drivers to unleash their inner creativity on their license plates — with the use of emojis.

On March 1, the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads will launch "emoji Plates" to drivers for $475 for a new order.

Drivers can customize their vanity plates online through Personalised Plates Queensland, which is offering five different designs, including the "wink" emoji, "smile" emoji and the "heart eyes" emoji.

The plates must include three letters and two numbers, and are offered in standard or slimline sizes.

The department also offers personalized license plates for business owners, who can design their plates with their business logo.

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