National / International News

The U.S. Supreme Court deals a blow to Argentina

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:30

After Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt back in 2001, it took an approach that many at the time described as hard line. It offered investors the choice of 30 percent of their money back, or none of their money back. 

“They stepped on a lot of toes,” says Win Thin, Global head of Emerging Markets strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman.

Though many bondholders were upset, 92 percent agreed to the terms. A small group, primarily hedge funds, did not. 

As Argentina began paying out diminutive returns to the creditors who agreed, the holdouts sued. They argued that as long as Argentina was paying some investors back, it was contractually obliged to pay the holdouts too – and to pay them the full amount of their debts.

Reading the relevant contracts narrowly, a lower U.S. court agreed, and in declining to hear the case the Supreme Court has allowed that ruling to stand. Argentina is now on the hook for more than a billion dollars and says it may now default. “If you look at the numbers they simply just can’t afford to pay this right now,” says Thin.  

Argentina may negotiate with the holdouts, but after launching a campaign to vilify them as vultures, that may prove difficult. The next payment date for Argentina is June 30, and this represents the deadline for determining whether the country will default or reach some sort of agreement.

The situation is negative for Argentina’s economy, but unlikely to spread into some regional or global financial crisis, says Thin. Investors have generally stayed far away from Argentina since its default. 

The global implications are still serious, according to many observers. 

“The [International Monetary] Fund remains deeply concerned about the broad systemic implications that the lower court decision could have for the debt restructuring process in general,” said Gerry Rice, spokesman for the International Monetary Fund, in a briefing June 5.

Countries in distress have often used the same framework as did Argentina to extract themselves from default. Usually not quite as aggressively, but the principle is the same: obtain the consent of a majority or plurality of investors to take a haircut. 

“The fear is when a country -- whether it’s Greece or Portugal or what have you -- is in a position where it can’t pay its debt, it’s rare that you ever get 100 percent of creditors accepting it,” says Peter Hakim, President Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue. 

Requiring every defaulting country to obtain approval of all creditors could drag the process out or even dash it altogether, as creditors would now have an incentive to be the last holdout.

“You’re sort of messing with a system that’s working pretty well,” says Hakim. “The U.S. Treasury, although it didn’t formally join in the suit at all, has the same view, that this may interfere with the workings of the financial system.”

Others have more dire predictions. 

“This case will impact debt restructuring all over the world, it’ll impact poor country access to credit,” says Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, a religiously backed organization that promotes global financial reform.

He says money earmarked for development is being diverted to pay creditors, to the detriment of vulnerable populations. 

In one sense, the legal quarrel in Argentina’s case could have been avoided by a different type of contract, where new payment terms become binding for all investors if a certain proportion of them agrees to them. 

However, for all the countries who have debt in the here and now, Argentina’s example is a warning that getting out of debt could is a lot harder than anyone thought. 

Iran 0-0 Nigeria

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:28
Iran and Nigeria play out the first draw of the 2014 World Cup as their Group F opener ends goalless in Curitiba.

How Australia's Perth is battling a water crisis

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:25
How Perth aims to stay wet in Australian aridity

'Smiling Sturridge sends out positive message'

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:22
England continue to emit a buoyant air as they prepare to face Uruguay, says chief football writer Phil McNulty.

In The Making Of Megafarms, A Few Winners And Many Losers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:19

A tiny fraction of America's 2 million farmers produces most of our food. They are the winners of a long-running competition for land and profits that has also drained the life out of small towns.

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Court Overturns Sharing Of FISA Surveillance With Defense Lawyers

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:17

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals says that the Justice Department can keep intelligence information secret in terrorism cases.

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Teens Disappear In The West Bank, And Israel Blames Hamas

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:11

The Israeli military is searching the West Bank for three Israeli teens who were kidnapped last week.

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Poll: Congressional Approval At Dangerous Low Point

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:10

A new Gallup survey finds key midterm election indicators at or approaching historic lows. Satisfaction with the direction of the country is also near rock bottom.

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VIDEO: Pound recovers to five-year high

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:09
More than five years after the banking crisis sent the UK economy and the pound tumbling in value, there are signs sterling has slowly clawed its way back.

Can Schools Solve The Tech Industry's Pipeline Problem?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 13:03

It might be time to change the message on STEM.

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VIDEO: Foal of Frankel auctioned for £1.15m

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:46
The first foal of legendary racehorse Frankel has been sold at auction in central London for £1.15m.

GM Recalls 3.2 Million More Cars For Faulty Ignition Switches

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:45

The latest recall is in addition to the 2.6 million cars the automaker has already recalled for a similar problem.

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GM recalls more cars over ignition

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:42
General Motors is recalling 3.2 million more cars in the US because of ignition switch problems, and will change or replace keys on the cars.

Citing Unpaid Debts, Russia Cuts Off Gas Supplies To Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:35

Russia says it has cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine after Kiev missed a deadline to pay part of its huge outstanding energy debt.

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Growing Worker Shortage Looms Over Logging Industry's Future

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:25

Logging is dangerous, arduous work, and fewer young people are pursuing it. Logging groups hope more outreach, and a bill that would lower the minimum logging age, will help keep the industry going.

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A mall in the middle of (what used to be) nowhere

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:21

Williston, North Dakota, has the nation’s highest rents. Thanks to the fracking boom, a basic apartment in Williston costs more than something similar in New York or San Francisco.  And it comes with a lot fewer amenities.

For instance, shopping. If Walmart doesn’t have it, the nearest outlet is at least two hours away. Now, a Swiss investment firm has announced plans to build a $500 million development that will include a major shopping center.

There are good reasons retail has taken so long to catch up with the town’s exploding population.

About three years ago, California real-estate developer Jeff Lunnen and his partners went to Williston to check out the fracking boom’s business prospects.

It wasn’t an easy trip. “It was hard to get accommodations," he says. "Hard to get something to eat, and trucks going in every direction.” At the time, many of the workers crowding into Williston camped out in RVs—some in the Walmart parking lot, others on the street.

All of which, to Lunnen, signaled unlimited opportunity. “We went back in two weeks, and started buying real estate,” he says, “and it’s been very good for us.”

The town’s population has more than doubled, and the RVs have been replaced by “man camps”—basically company barracks—after a city crackdown.

Lunnen has focused on industrial projects, but some developers have started to create more-permanent housing, at those sky-high rents.

Retail, says Lunnen, presents special challenges. “It’s a little like building your retail project on the moon,” he says. “There’s some logistical issues.”

For instance: Who would work in the shops? Are they supposed to live in the man-camps? How could retail stores pay competitive wages, when oilfield companies pay unskilled 19 year-olds $80,000 a year?

Traditional lenders haven’t been quick to get involved in retail development. “We are looking to avoid what I would refer to as over-capacity,” says John Giese, who oversees business banking for Wells Fargo in North Dakota. In other words, when things level off, will there be more malls than even a built-up Williston needs? 

No one knows for sure how many people live and work in Williston now. A study commissioned by the city planning department puts the range between 39,000 and 44,500.

Meanwhile, like Jeff Lunnen, Wells Fargo has plenty to do in a line that’s more of a sure thing: working with energy producers. “Supporting that industry—making equipment and construction loans and such—will have quicker payback,” he says.

A Swiss investment firm called Stropiq is behind the newly announced $500 million project, to include housing, hotels and 1.2 million square feet of retail.

Donn Fuller, a Jones Lang LaSalle executive who is managing the build-out and soliciting tenants, says the first phase will focus on what he calls commodities:  “Grocery, pharmacy, theaters,” he says. “In that area we consider theaters a commodity. Which is a little different, but there’s not a lot of entertainment.”

Fuller hopes to have that phase—which may include department stores and women’s fashion—up and running in about three years. The project as a whole may take seven to ten.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he says. “On the site plan, the financial model. All I can say is, we think it’s going to be profitable. How profitable remains to be seen.”

Fuller admits: He’s never done a project in a location like this before.

Cook encouraged by new-look England

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:16
England captain Alastair Cook hopes his team's display against Sri Lanka is a springboard for an exciting new era.

Iraqi Ambassador: 'In Iraq Now, You Have A Thousand Bin Ladens'

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:12

Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., speaks about Iraq's hopes for the American response to recent turmoil, as well as the conditions the U.S. has placed on its possible intervention.

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Chicago Gets Out From Under Its History Of Political Patronage

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 12:07

A court-appointed federal monitor will no longer oversee hiring in the city of Chicago. A federal judge ruled that the city has put in place enough safeguards to minimize patronage in Chicago government jobs. It took 45 years of court orders and consent decrees, but political reformers say that patronage, which once built a powerful democratic machine, is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

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