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Women-to-Women Business Fund Comes to Britain

A women-to-women investment fund is coming to Britain next month to boost financing for female-owned businesses, its founder said Thursday, as efforts grow to close the gender investing gap.

SheEO has lent more than $2 million to 32 female social entrepreneurs in the United States, Canada and New Zealand to grow their businesses since 2015 in an attempt to address a global gender investment gap.

“Most of the people writing checks and investing are men,” founder Vicki Saunders told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “SheEO wants to fund female innovators with great ideas to create stronger communities and a better world.”

Support for female entrepreneurs

It is the latest venture to support female entrepreneurs around the world, who often face more obstacles than men, including a lack of access to finance, business networks, international markets and role models.

Three out of 10 U.S. businesses are owned by women but they only receive $1 in investment for every $23 that goes to male-led businesses, the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee found in 2014.

A Goldman Sachs-World Bank Group partnership to provide capital to women entrepreneurs in emerging markets reached $1 billion in investments in May.

How it works

SheEO brings together 500 women each year who contribute $1,100 each, which they pool and lend, interest-free, to five women-led businesses of their choice.

The loans are paid back over five years and then loaned out again, creating a perpetual fund that SheEO hopes will grow to $1 billion, with 1 million investors supporting 10,000 women-led ventures.

More than 300 women in Britain wrote to SheEO asking it to launch there, Saunders said ahead of a visit to London where she hopes that 500 female investors will come on board.

Workplace gender equality is in the spotlight in Britain, where just 6 percent of the biggest publicly listed companies are headed by women and pay disparities were revealed at major institutions last year.

Twenty One Toys founder Ilana Ben-Ari, one of the first to get SheEO funding in 2015, said it changed her business, enabling her to push ahead with production and hire staff to help with a stressful workload. Her revenue has now doubled.

“It was easy to get my foot in the door and have a meeting but it was near impossible to have a serious conversation about my business,” she said, describing her efforts to get financing from venture capitalists. “Halfway through that meeting you find out — this isn’t a meeting, this is a date.”

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US Stocks Slide on Saudi Arabia, Italy Concerns

U.S. stocks fell more than 1 percent on Thursday as the European Commission issued a warning regarding Italy’s budget and concerns mounted about the possibility of strained relations between the United States and

Saudi Arabia.

S&P 500 technology stocks fell more than 2 percent, as did the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

Wall Street’s major indexes pared early losses in morning trading but reversed course to fall further as European markets closed. Italian bond yields jumped after the European Commission deemed the country’s 2019 budget draft to be in breach of EU rules.

U.S. stocks declined further after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled out of an investor conference in Saudi Arabia as the White House awaited the outcome of investigations into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“It’s a function of a lot of things coalescing into a concern,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Pittsburgh. “The market continues to struggle in the aftermath of the bigger drawdown a week ago.”

Mnuchin’s decision sparked worries of potential strain in U.S.-Saudi relations, especially if Saudi leaders were found to have been involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Investors raised concern that if Saudi Arabia were sanctioned, it could restrict oil supply, prompting a rise in energy prices.

Shares of military contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. also fell on concerns that U.S. lawmakers may block arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

U.S. stocks had opened lower as weak earnings reports from companies such as Cessna business jet maker Textron Inc. and equipment rental company United Rentals Inc. raised concerns about the impact of tariffs, climbing borrowing costs and rising wages on corporate profits.

Textron shares fell 10.8 percent and United Rentals shares sank 14.7 percent, while Sealed Air Corp. shares slid 8.7 percent after the packaging company cut its full-year profit outlook because of higher raw material and freight costs.

Worries about rising interest rates following Wednesday’s release of the Federal Open Market Committee’s minutes from its September meeting also pressured U.S. stocks.

“The market is coming to grips with the reality that the Fed may make financial conditions a little tighter than they originally thought,” said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 417.17 points, or 1.62 percent, to 25,289.51; the S&P 500 lost 47.59 points, or 1.69 percent, to 2,761.62; and the Nasdaq composite dropped 168.31 points, or 2.2 percent, to 7,474.39.

Among the few bright spots was Philip Morris International Inc., which rose 3.4 percent after the Marlboro cigarette maker topped analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and sales.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a

3.72-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.43-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

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Russian Firms Test Non-Dollar Deals to Sidestep US Sanctions

Several major Russian companies are exploring ways to do deals abroad without using dollars, spurred on by a U.S. threat to broaden sanctions that have impeded access of some Russian firms to the international banking system.

The Kremlin has been pushing companies to conduct more deals using other currencies to reduce reliance on the dollar.

Russian Alrosa, the world’s biggest producer of rough diamonds in carat terms, said it had completed a pilot deal with a Chinese client using yuan in the summer and another non-dollar transaction with an Indian client.

Other companies working on similar transactions include energy firm Surgutneftegaz, agricultural company Rusagro and miner Norilsk Nickel.

Russia’s central bank said this week the amount of non-dollar dealings was growing, with the share of rouble settlements in the Russia-China and Russia-India goods trade now between 10 and 20 percent.

The share was higher in the service industry, it added.

But there are limits to how much business can be shifted.

Major companies still rely heavily on dollar deals and most of Russia’s foreign earnings come from oil sales priced in dollars.

In addition, foreign banks with major U.S. activities may still be wary of business with any entity under U.S. sanctions even if transactions are not in dollars, bankers say.

The United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Washington said in August more measures could follow, after accusing Moscow of using a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.

The new steps, which could be announced in November, may target dollar dealings, U.S. lawmakers have said.

Speed helps

One challenge facing companies dealing in the rouble is the Russian currency’s volatility. Between April 6 and 11, after Washington imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and some of his companies, the rouble lost almost 13 percent of its value against the dollar.

Alrosa said it avoided the fluctuation risk by completing the Chinese deal in a day. U.S. dollar deals tend to take longer due to associated compliance checks required.

“An increase in the speed of operations is an advantage in such an operation,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Alrosa did not give a value for its China and India deals but said the Chinese buyer had bought a lot at its auction of diamonds of 10.8 carats or larger in Hong Kong. Alrosa data indicates that its lots are on average worth about $100,000.

Alrosa said the banker for its Chinese deal was Shanghai office of VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank. An industry source, asking not to be named, said Russia’s biggest bank lender Sberbank worked on the Indian deal.

VTB and Sberbank declined to comment.

The Chinese client settled its purchase in yuan, which VTB converted into roubles and transferred to Alrosa.

“We carried out the transaction itself in one day, in several hours,” Alrosa said, adding that on this occasion the currency move was in the client’s favor.

No currency hedging was required because of the speed of the deal, the company said, but the client had to open an account in VTB’s branch in Shanghai to complete the transaction.

Alrosa said it was also considering settlement for future deals in Hong Kong dollars, adding that other Chinese clients had shown interest in non-dollar transactions.

Non-dollar limits

But there are limits on how much of Alrosa’s business can switch to other currencies. China accounts for just 4 percent of its sales, while India accounts for 17 percent.

Among initiatives by other Russian firms, Surgutneftegaz has been pushing buyers to agree to pay for oil in euros instead of dollars, Reuters reported in September.

Russian farming conglomerate Rusagro told Reuters that some of its trading operations were in yuan and said this would increase with the expansion of business with China.

Russian nickel and palladium producer Norilsk Nickel said it was discussing the option of rouble payments with foreign customers which have rouble revenue, although it said it had not secured deals under those terms.

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US Again Declines to Label China a Currency Manipulator 

The Trump administration has again declined to label China a currency manipulator, but says it is keeping China and five other nations on a watch list.

“Of particular concern are China’s lack of currency transparency and the recent weakness in its currency,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in his biannual report to Congress.

“Those pose major challenges to achieving fairer and more balanced trade and we will continue to monitor and review China’s currency practices, including thorough ongoing discussions with the People’s Bank of China,” he said.

Mnuchin said China — along with Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland — would be placed on a list of countries whose currency practices require what the report calls “close attention.”

Governments manipulate currency by keeping the exchange rates artificially low to make its goods and services cheaper on the world market. 

But that puts trading partners and others at a disadvantage. President Donald Trump promised throughout the campaign to label China a currency manipulator once he got into office, but so far he has declined to do so.

Instead, Trump has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports to address what he says are unfair trade practices and the trade deficit.

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Jubilant Customers Light Up as Marijuana Sales Begin in Canada

Jubilant customers stood in long lines for hours then lit up and celebrated on sidewalks Wednesday as Canada became the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace.

In Toronto, people smoked joints as soon as they rolled out of bed in a big “wake and bake” celebration. In Alberta, a government website that sells pot crashed when too many people tried to place orders.

And in Montreal, Graeme Campbell welcomed the day he could easily buy all the pot he wanted. 

“It’s hard to find people to sell to me because I look like a cop,” the clean-cut, 43-year-old computer programmer said outside a newly opened pot store.

He and his friend Alex Lacrosse were smoking a joint when two police officers walked by. “I passed you a joint right in front of them and they didn’t even bat an eye,” Lacrosse told his friend.

Festivities erupted throughout the nation as Canada became the largest country on the planet with legal marijuana sales. At least 111 pot shops were expected to open Wednesday across the nation of 37 million people, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces. Uruguay was the first country to legalize marijuana.

Ian Power was first in line at a store in St. John’s, but didn’t plan to smoke the one gram he bought after midnight.

“I am going to frame it and hang it on my wall,” the 46-year-old Power said. “I’m going to save it forever.”

Tom Clarke, an illegal pot dealer for three decades, opened a pot store in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, and made his first sale to his dad. He was cheered by the crowd waiting in line.

“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” Clarke said. “I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border.”

Promise of pardons

The start of legal sales wasn’t the only good news for pot aficionados: Canada said it intends to pardon everyone with convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana, the newly legal threshold.

“I don’t need to be a criminal anymore, and that’s a great feeling,” Canadian singer Ashley MacIsaac said outside a government-run shop in Nova Scotia. “And my new dealer is the prime minister!”

Medical marijuana has been legal since 2001 in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has spent the past two years working toward legalizing recreational pot to better reflect society’s changing opinion about marijuana and bring black-market operators into a regulated system.

Corey Stone and a friend got to one of the 12 stores that opened in Quebec at 3:45 a.m. to be among the first to buy pot. Hundreds later lined up.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing — you’re never ever going to be one of the first people able to buy legal recreational cannabis in Canada ever again,” said Stone, a 32-year restaurant and bar manager.

Shop in stores, online

The stores have a sterile look, like a modern clinic, with a security desk to check identification. The products are displayed in plastic or cardboard packages behind counters. Buyers can’t touch or smell the products before they buy. A small team of employees answer questions but don’t make recommendations.

“It’s a candy store, I like the experience,” said Vincent Desjardins, a 20-year-old-student who plans to apply for a job at the Montreal shop.

Canadians can also order marijuana products through websites run by provinces or private retailers and have it delivered to their home by mail.

At 12:07 a.m., the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission tweeted: “You like us! Our website is experiencing some heavy traffic. We are working hard to get it up and running.”

Alberta and Quebec have set the minimum age for purchase at 18, while other provinces have made it 19.

No stores will open in Ontario, which includes Toronto. The nation’s most populous province is working on its regulations and doesn’t expect stores to operate until spring.

A patchwork of regulations has spread in Canada as each province takes its own approach within the framework established by the federal government. Some provinces have government-run stores, others allow private retailers, and some have both.

Canada’s national approach allows unfettered banking for the pot industry, inter-province shipments of cannabis and billions of dollars in investment — a sharp contrast with prohibitions in the United States, where nine states have legalized recreational sales of pot and more than 30 have approved medical marijuana.

Bruce Linton, CEO of marijuana producer and retailer Canopy Growth, claims he made the first sale in Canada — less than a second after midnight in Newfoundland.

“It was extremely emotional,” he said. “Several people who work for us have been working on this for their entire adult life and several of them were in tears.”

Linton is proud that Canada is now at the forefront of the burgeoning industry.

“The last time Canada was this far ahead in anything, Alexander Graham Bell made a phone call,” said Linton, whose company recently received an investment of $4 billion from Constellation Brands, whose holdings include Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wines.

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Tesla Secures Land in Shanghai for First Factory Outside US

Electric auto brand Tesla Inc. said it signed an agreement Wednesday to secure land in Shanghai for its first factory outside the United States, pushing ahead with development despite mounting U.S.-Chinese trade tensions.

Tesla, based on Palo Alto, California, announced plans for the Shanghai factory in July after the Chinese government said it would end restrictions on full foreign ownership of electric vehicle makers to speed up industry development.

Those plans have gone ahead despite tariff hikes by Washington and Beijing on billions of dollars of each other’s goods in a dispute over Chinese technology policy. U.S. imports targeted by Beijing’s penalties include electric cars.

China is the biggest global electric vehicle market and Tesla’s second-largest after the United States.

Tesla joins global automakers including General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG and Nissan Motor Corp. that are pouring billions of dollars into manufacturing electric vehicles in China.

Local production would eliminate risks from tariffs and other import controls. It would help Tesla develop parts suppliers to support after service and make its vehicles more appealing to mainstream Chinese buyers.

Tesla said it signed a “land transfer agreement” on a 210-acre (84-hectare) site in the Lingang district in southeastern Shanghai.

That is “an important milestone for what will be our next advanced, sustainably developed manufacturing site,” Tesla’s vice president of worldwide sales, Robin Ren, said in a statement.

Shanghai is a center of China’s auto industry and home to state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp., the main local manufacturer for GM and VW.

Tesla said earlier that production in Shanghai would begin two to three years after construction of the factory begins and eventually increase to 500,000 vehicles annually.

Tesla has yet to give a price tag but the Shanghai government said it would be the biggest foreign investment there to date. The company said in its second-quarter investor letter that construction is expected to begin within the next few quarters, with significant investment coming next year. Much of the cost will be funded with “local debt” the letter said.

Tesla’s $5 billion Nevada battery factory was financed with help from a $1.6 billion investment by battery maker Panasonic Corp.

Analysts expect Tesla to report a loss of about $200 million for the three months ending Sept. 30 following the previous quarter’s $742.7 million loss. Its CEO Elon Musk said in a Sept. 30 letter to U.S. securities regulators that the company is “very close to achieving profitability.”

Tesla’s estimated sales in China of under 15,000 vehicles in 2017 gave it a market share of less than 3 percent.

The company faces competition from Chinese brands including BYD Auto and BAIC Group that already sell tens of thousands of hybrid and pure-electric sedans and SUVs annually.

Until now, foreign automakers that wanted to manufacture in China were required to work through state-owned partners. Foreign brands balked at bringing electric vehicle technology into China to avoid having to share it with potential future competitors.

The first of the new electric models being developed by global automakers to hit the market, Nissan’s Sylphy Zero Emission, began rolling off a production line in southern China in August.

Lower-priced electric models from GM, Volkswagen and other global brands are due to hit the market starting this year, well before Tesla is up and running in Shanghai.

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Many CEOs Pull Out of Saudi Investment Conference

Western corporate chiefs are continuing to pull out of an investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week, distancing themselves from questions about Riyadh’s involvement in the disappearance and alleged killing of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist in Turkey.

At first, many of the business leaders reserved judgment on what happened to the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. But as reports from Turkey have mounted alleging that Saudi agents tortured, killed and dismembered Khashoggi two weeks ago inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul, the chief executives have announced in recent days they will not be attending the three-day Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh starting Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has denied killing Khashoggi, a critic of the country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in columns he wrote for The Washington Post. It says it will disclose the results of its investigation into his disappearance.

The conference is being organized by Saudi Arabia’s mammoth sovereign wealth fund and was being billed as a showcase for economic reforms advanced by the crown prince as he attempts to diversify the kingdom’s economy, for decades focused on its role as the world’s leading oil exporter. The gathering had been dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the annual meeting of world economic leaders in Switzerland.

JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and the heads of two top U.S. investment firms — BlackRock and Blackstone — have dropped out of the conference. Top executives at the Ford auto manufacturing company and the MasterCard credit company have said they won’t be going, while the Google internet search engine company said Tuesday that the head of its cloud computing business also would not be at the event.

The chiefs of European bankers BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale also rescinded acceptances to the conference.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who says Saudi Arabia should not be judged guilty in the incident while its investigation is being conducted, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will decide by Friday whether to attend.

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Uber Driver Charged with Kidnapping New York Woman

An Uber driver in New York City kidnapped a woman who fell asleep in his vehicle, groped her in the back seat and then left her on the side of a highway in Connecticut, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Harbir Parmar, 24, of Queens was charged in U.S. District Court with kidnapping. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had an attorney.

The FBI said in court papers that Parmar picked the woman up in Manhattan at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 for a trip to her home in White Plains, New York, about an hour away. The woman fell asleep, authorities said, and Parmar changed her destination to an address in Boston, Massachusetts.

The woman woke up to find the driver “with his hand under her shirt touching the top of her breast,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.

The woman reached for her phone, the complaint said, but Parmar took it from her and continued driving. She asked the driver to take her to the police station but the Parmar refused, the complaint said.

Parmar eventually left the woman on the side of Interstate 95 in Branford, Connecticut, about an hour’s drive east of her home. The complaint said the woman memorized Parmar’s license plate and called a cab from a nearby convenience store.

The woman later learned that Uber had charged her more than $1,000 for a trip from New York to Massachusetts.

Federal authorities and New York police condemned Parmar’s behavior as reprehensible.

“No one — man or woman — should fear such an attack when they simply hire a car service,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

Uber said it blocked Parmar from using the app when the alleged kidnapping occurred.

“What’s been reported is horrible and something no person should go through. As soon as we became aware, we immediately removed this individual’s access to the platform. We have fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to support their investigation,” the company said in a statement.

The company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, said over the summer that he hoped to make Uber the “safest transportation platform on the planet,” after enduring years of criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to screen drivers. That included adding a new feature to the app that is supposed to alert both passengers and drivers if a car makes an unplanned stop.

The state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million last year for allowing people with criminal records to work as drivers. New York City requires ride-hailing service drivers to go through a licensing process similar to the one it has for traditional limo and car service drivers.

Federal authorities also charged Parmar with wire fraud, accusing him of overcharging Uber riders by inputting false information about their destinations.

The complaint said he also reported “false information” about cleaning fees that he charged to Uber riders on at least three occasions, including the woman he allegedly groped and left on the side of the road.

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US to Open Trade Talks With Britain, EU, Japan

The White House has announced plans to negotiate separate trade deals with Britain, the European Union and Japan.

“We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday.

He added that the White House wanted to “address both tariff and non-tariff barriers and to achieve fairer and more balanced trade.”

As required by law, Lighthizer sent three separate letters to Congress announcing the intention to open trade talks.

He wrote that the negotiations with Britain would begin “as soon as it’s ready” after Britain’s expected exit from the European Union on March 29.

Lighthizer called the economic partnership between the U.S. and EU the “largest and most complex”in the world, noting the U.S. has a $151 billion trade deficit with the EU

Writing about Japan, Lighthizer said it is “an important but still often underperforming market for U.S. exporters of goods,” noting that Washington also has a large trade deficit with Tokyo.

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, cautioned the administration against making what he called “quick, partial deals.” 

“The administration must take the time to tackle trade barriers comprehensively, including using this opportunity to set a high bar in areas like labor rights, environmental protection and digital trade,” he said.

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports earlier this year and has threatened more tariffs on cars as a reaction to what he said were unfair deals that put the U.S. at a disadvantage.

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Earnings Reports Send US Stocks Higher

Major U.S. stock markets made strong gains Tuesday as strong earnings reports encouraged investors.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 547.87 points, or 2.2 percent, to close at 25,798.42. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 59.13 points, or 2.2 percent, to 2,809.92 with all 11 sectors finishing higher. The Nasdaq composite, home to many tech stocks, jumped 214.75 points, or 2.9 percent, to 7,645.49.

New U.S. economic data showing gains in job openings and industrial production also helped buoy prices.

Tuesday’s Dow gain marked a sharp turnaround from some recent trading sessions, when worries about rising interest rates sent stock market indexes down steeply.

Those concerns also pushed down the value of European stocks, but the major indexes in France, Germany and Britain also posted gains Tuesday.