Qatar’s Stock Market Falls as Neighbors’ Demands Unmet

Qatar’s stock market fell sharply Sunday as a deadline for Doha to accept a series of political demands by four Arab states was expected to expire later in the day with no sign of a resolution.

The Qatari stock index sank as much as 3.1 percent in thin trading, bringing its losses to 11.9 percent since June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties, accusing Doha of backing militants.

Stocks tumbled across the board Sunday, with 41 lower and only one higher. Qatar National Bank, the largest listed lender in the Gulf, lost 3.1 percent.

Samsung Recycles, Sells Galaxy Note 7 in South Korea

Samsung Electronics said Sunday its recalled Galaxy Note 7 phones will be recycled and sold starting this week in South Korea. 

 

The Galaxy Note FE phone, using unused parts in the recalled Note 7 smartphones, will go on sale in South Korea Friday at 700,000 won ($611), about three quarters of its original price. 

 

The company said the supply will be limited to 400,000 units. Overseas sales plans will be determined later, it said in a statement. 

 

Samsung said the Note FE has “perfect safety.”

Black eye for Samsung

 

The original Note 7 was one of the biggest black eyes in Samsung’s history. When it was launched in August 2016, the Note 7 was Samsung’s answer to Apple’s upcoming iPhone. It was also one of the most expensive Samsung phones with the price starting at $850. 

 

But after reports emerged that its batteries were prone to overheat and catch fire, Samsung recalled the phone in less than a month of its launch and released another one with replaced batteries. But the second batch also tended to overheat, prompting Samsung to discontinue the Note 7. 

 

The debacle dealt a blow to Samsung’s corporate image. Aviation authorities around the world banned the pricy phone on flights and photos of scorched Note 7s circulated on social media. Samsung spent billions of dollars to recall the Note 7 and fix its damaged brand. 

 

Earlier this year, the company released the investigation results and blamed flaws in design and production of batteries supplied by two battery makers.

Environmentalists urged reuse of parts

 

After Samsung recalled millions of Note 7 phones, environmental activists have pressured the South Korean tech giant to reuse the electronics parts to reduce waste. Samsung said the Note FE is part of its efforts to minimize waste.

 

The Note FE, short for “Fan Edition,” features the screen measuring 5.7 inches (14.48 centimeters) diagonally and the stylus pen.

Dakar Fashion Week Takes Style Back to the Streets

One of Dakar Fashion Week’s biggest events is free — a fashion show in working class neighborhood, Niary Tally. The event’s founder, Senegalese designer Adama Paris, says the so-called “Street Show” is her favorite event of the week because she gets to take fashion back to the streets where it originates. Ricci Shryock has more from Dakar.

US Warns Nuclear, Energy Firms of Hacking Campaign

The U.S government warned industrial firms this week about a hacking campaign targeting the nuclear and energy sectors, the latest event to highlight the power industry’s vulnerability to cyberattacks.

Since at least May, hackers used tainted “phishing” emails to “harvest credentials” so they could gain access to networks of their targets, according to a joint report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The report provided to the industrial firms was reviewed by Reuters Friday. While disclosing attacks, and warning that in some cases hackers succeeded in compromising the networks of their targets, it did not identify any specific victims.

Industry looking into intrusions

“Historically, cyber actors have strategically targeted the energy sector with various goals ranging from cyber espionage to the ability to disrupt energy systems in the event of a hostile conflict,” the report said.

Homeland Security and FBI officials could not be reached for comment on the report, which was dated June 28. The report was released during a week of heavy hacking activity.

A virus dubbed “NotPetya” attacked Tuesday, spreading from initial infections in Ukraine to businesses around the globe. It encrypted data on infected machines, rendering them inoperable and disrupting activity at ports, law firms and factories.

On Tuesday the energy-industry news site E&E News reported that U.S. investigators were looking into cyber intrusions this year at multiple nuclear power generators.

Reuters has not confirmed details of the E&E News report, which said there was no evidence safety systems had been compromised at affected plants.

Worry since 2016

Industrial firms, including power providers and other utilities, have been particularly worried about the potential for destructive cyber attacks since December 2016, when hackers cut electricity in Ukraine.

U.S. nuclear power generators PSEG, SCANA Corp and Entergy Corp said they were not affected by the recent cyberattacks. SCANA’s V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina shut down Thursday because of a problem with a valve in the non-nuclear portion of the plant, a spokesman said.

Another nuclear power generator, Dominion Energy, said it does not comment on cyber security.

Two cyber security firms said June 12 that they had identified the malicious software used in the Ukraine attack, which they dubbed Industroyer, warning that it could be easily modified to attack utilities in the United States and Europe.

Industroyer is the second piece of malware uncovered to date that is capable of disrupting industrial processes without the need for hackers to manually intervene.

The first, Stuxnet, was discovered in 2010 and is widely believed by security researchers to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. government report said attackers conducted reconnaissance to gain information about the individuals whose computers they sought to infect so that they create “decoy documents” on topics of interest to their targets.

In an analysis, it described 11 files used in the attacks, including malware downloaders and tools that allow the hackers to take remote control of victims’ computers and travel across their networks.

Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and ConocoPhillips, the three largest U.S. oil producers, declined to comment on their network security.

India Launches New Economic Era With Sales Tax Reform

India early on Saturday introduced its biggest tax reform in the 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) replaces more than a dozen federal and state levies and unifying a $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into one of the world’s biggest common markets.

The measure is expected to make it easier to do business by simplifying the tax structure and ensuring greater compliance, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic credentials before a planned re-election bid in 2019.

At a midnight ceremony in parliament’s central hall Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee together launched the new tax by pressing a button.

“With GST, the dream of ‘One India, Great India’ will come true,” Modi said.

For the first midnight ceremony in the central hall in two decades, Modi was joined by his cabinet colleagues, India’s central bank chief, a former prime minister and major company executives including Ratan Tata.

The launch, however, was boycotted by several opposition parties including the Congress Party, which first proposed the tax reform before it fell from power three years ago.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the architect of India’s economic reforms – also gave it a miss.

Complex Structure

It has taken 14 years for the new sales tax to come into being. But horse trading to get recalcitrant Indian states on board has left Asia’s third-largest economy with a complex tax structure.

In contrast to simpler sales taxes in other countries, India’s GST has four rates and numerous exemptions.

The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening.

Many businesses are nervous about how the changes will unfold, with smaller ones saying they will get hit by higher tax rates.

Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.

While higher tax rates for services and non-food items are expected to fuel price pressures, compliance is feared to be a major challenge in a country where many entrepreneurs are not computer literate and rely on handwritten ledgers.

“We have jumped into a river but don’t know its depth,” said A. Subba Rao, an executive director at power firm CLP India.

‘One Tax, One Market, One Nation’

Poor implementation would deal a blow to an economy that is still recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to outlaw 86 percent of the currency in circulation.

In a bid to mitigate the impact on the farm sector, the GST rates for tractors and fertilizer were slashed on Friday to 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

HSBC estimates the reform, despite its flaws, could add 0.4 percentage points to economic growth.

An end of tax arbitrage under the GST is estimated to save companies $14 billion in reduced logistics costs and efficiency gains.

As the GST is a value added tax, firms will have an incentive to comply in order to avail credit for taxes already paid. This should widen the tax net, shoring up public finances.

“The old India was economically fragmented,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “The new India will create one tax, one market for one nation.”

Companies Still Hobbled from Fearsome Cyberattack

Many businesses still struggled Friday to recover hopelessly scrambled computer networks, collateral damage from a massive cyberattack that targeted Ukraine three days ago.

The Heritage Valley Health System couldn’t offer lab and diagnostic imaging services at 14 community and neighborhood offices in western Pennsylvania. DLA Piper, a London-based law firm with offices in 40 countries, said on its website that email systems were down; a receptionist said email hadn’t been restored by the close of business day.

Dave Kennedy, a former Marine cyberwarrior who is now CEO of the security company TrustedSec, said one U.S. company he is helping is rebuilding its entire network of more than 5,000 computers.

 

“It hit everything, their backups, servers, their workstations, everything,” he said. “Everything was just nuked and wiped.”

Kennedy added, “Some of these companies are actually using pieces of paper to write down credit card numbers. It’s crazy.”

Some attacks are unreported

The cyber attack that began Tuesday brought even some Fortune 1000 companies to their knees, experts say. Kennedy said a lot more “isn’t being reported by companies who don’t want to say that they are hit.”

The malware, which security experts are calling NotPetya, was unleashed through Ukraine tax software, called MeDoc. Customers’ networks became infected downloading automatic updates from its maker’s website. Many customers are multinationals with offices in the eastern European nation.

The malware spread so quickly, worming its way automatically through interconnected private networks, as to be nearly unstoppable. What saved the world from digital mayhem, experts say, was its limited business-to-business connectivity with Ukrainian enterprises, the intended target.

 

Had those direct connections been extensive — on the level of a major industrial nation — “you are talking about a catastrophic failure of all of our systems and environments across the globe. I mean it could have been absolutely terrifying,” Kennedy said.

Microsoft said NotPetya hit companies in at least 64 nations, including Russia, Germany and the United States. Victims include drug giant Merck & Co. and the shipping company FedEx’s TNT subsidiary. Trade in FedEx stock was temporarily halted Wednesday.

Danish shipping giant still struggling

One major victim, Danish shipping giant A.P. Maersk-Moller, said Friday that its cargo terminals and port operations were “now running close to normal again.” It said operations had been restored in Spain, Morocco, India, Brazil, Argentina and Lima, Peru, but problems lingered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Elizabeth, New Jersey; and Los Angeles.

An employee at an international transit company at Lima’s port of Callao told The Associated Press that Maersk employees’ telephone system and email had been knocked out by the virus — so they were “stuck using their personal cellphones.” The employee spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to reporters.

Back in Ukraine, the pain continued. Officials assured the public that the outbreak was under control, and service has been restored to cash machines and at the airport.

But some bank branches remain closed as information-technology professionals scrambled to rebuild networks from scratch. One government employee told the AP she was still relying on her iPhone because her office’s computers were “collapsed.” She, too, was not authorized to talk to journalists.

 Security researchers now concur that while NotPetya was wrapped in the guise of extortionate “ransomware” — which encrypts files and demands payment — it was really designed to exact maximum destruction and disruption, with Ukraine the clear target.

FBI joins investigation

Computers were disabled there at banks, government agencies, energy companies, supermarkets, railways and telecommunications providers.

 

Ukraine’s government said Thursday that the FBI and Britain’s National Crime Agency were assisting in its investigation of the malware.

Suspicion for the attack immediately fell on hackers affiliated with Russia, though there is no evidence tying Vladimir Putin’s government to the attack.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been tense since Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Pro-Russian fighters still battle the government in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence agencies declined to comment about who might be responsible for the attack. The White House did not immediately respond to questions seeking its reaction to the attack.

Russian hackers blamed before

 

Experts have blamed pro-Russian hackers for major cyberattacks on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and 2016, assaults that have turned the eastern European nation into the world’s leading cyber warfare testing ground.

 

A disruptive attack on the nation’s voting system ahead of 2014 national elections is also attributed to Russia.

Robert M. Lee, CEO of Dragos Inc. and an expert on cyberattacks on infrastructure including Ukraine’s power grid, said the rules of cyber espionage appear to be changing, with sophisticated actors — state-sponsored or not — violating what had been established norms of avoiding collateral damage.

Besides NotPetya, he pointed to the May ransomware dubbed “WannaCry,” a major cyberassault that some experts have blamed on North Korea.

“I think it’s absolutely reprehensive if we do not have national-level leaders come out and make very clear statements,”  he said, “that this is not activity that can be condoned.”

                 

Thailand, China to Sign $5 Billion Rail Infrastructure Agreement

In a major boost to Thailand’s transportation infrastructure, the military government is set to sign a more than $5 billion agreement with China for a high-speed rail network.

The first stage of the rail, the 252 kilometers from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, is a key step in a line that, once complete, will stretch more than 1,260 kilometers to Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province. The next stages will reach the Thai border with Laos. 

Analysts see the rail line as an extension of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, expanding regional trade and investment. The project also highlights China’s growing regional influence.

The agreement, expected to be signed in July, follows almost two years of delays in negotiations, with final details of the contract still to be made public.

The deal has also raised widespread criticism of the government’s use of powerful clauses in an interim charter.

Economic boost for Thailand

Economists say investment in Thailand’s rail infrastructure needs to be a priority.

Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of business studies at Thammasat University, said general improvements to Thailand’s transportation network are welcome.

Several other countries, including Japan and South Korea, have put forward transportation plans and proposals for rail systems in recent years.

“It’s good for Thailand and it’s good for Thai business. I would say a clear ‘yes’ because Thailand is in dire need of better infrastructure, especially with regard to transport,” Pavida said.

Thailand, she said, faces high transportation logistics costs due to a reliance on roads.

Talks surrounding the Sino-Thai rail agreement have been bogged down for over two years due to disputes over land access to China, debate over interest charges on loans from Chinese banks, and the eligibility of Chinese engineers and architects to work on the project.

Professor of economics Somphob Manarangsan said the rail project offers the region significant economic potential and a boost in Chinese foreign direct investment.

He said Thailand is also looking to China to invest in the government-backed Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) that is targeting regional foreign investment.

“Thailand wants them [China] to move their regional supply chain outside of China to the mainland of ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] area, which has Thailand at the hub, connecting to CLMV [Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam],” he told VOA.

The rail network includes a 410-kilometer section through Laos, in which China is contributing 70 percent of the total $5.8 billion cost. Laos sees the rail line as vital to enable it to export goods to the Thai seaport of Laem Chabang, near Bangkok.

Special powers raise concern

But the project has come under increasing criticism in Thailand after the military government, in power since May 2014, insisted on using powers under Section 44 of the interim charter that give the government absolute authority in policy application.

The government claims the use of the special power was to ensure Chinese investment, expertise, technology and equipment.

Former army chief and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told local media the use of the charter powers was to clear legal hurdles in the Thai-Sino rail project, “not a special favor to China but to Thailand’s benefit.”

But the use of the laws was challenged by organizations of Thai professional engineers and architects who said Chinese engineers were not registered to work in Thailand.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, in a commentary, said Thailand should press for open bidding on the project to ensure the country ended up with the “best bid with the best value.”

“Instead, opting for the Chinese plan is poised to violate a slew of Thai laws and undermine the government’s own good governance agenda,” Thitinan said.

Besides exemptions to Chinese engineers and architects working on the project, the charter articles also exempt state procurement laws and environmental regulations covering forest reserves, which will be set aside for the line’s construction.

Thammasat University’s Pavida said other concerns include levels of transparency on the agreement.

“People don’t know the details. People haven’t seen much information on the potential benefit, and partly, this is because the feasibility study has been done by the Chinese,” she said.

“So, if you look at that and the Chinese try to sell their technology and then we let them do the feasibility study, so they would say, ‘yes, it is feasible.’ So that’s one of the reasons why people do not have trust in the rush into this,” she said.

Analysts said the government’s push to sign an agreement comes as Thai’s Prayut is due to visit China in September to attend meetings of the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — forum in Xiamen.

India to Rollout Momentous Tax Reform, But Many Fear Rocky Transition

India is set to rollout a momentous tax reform at midnight Friday that will transform the country of 1.3 billion people into a single market.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will replace an entanglement of more than a dozen confusing levies with a single tax and bring down barriers between states.

But the transition is bringing upheaval. The new tax has sparked strikes, protests and concerns it could disrupt many businesses unprepared for a leap into the digital economy.

In markets across the country, confusion and chaos prevail among millions of small shopkeepers and traders, who have for decades maintained records in dusty ledgers and issued paper receipts to customers. Some are hurriedly investing in computers as new rules require all but the smallest businesses to submit online taxes every month.

Calculator to computer

Suresh Kumar, who runs a family owned store in a bustling neighborhood market in New Delhi, has never operated a computer and does not have an Internet connection in his shop. His customers mostly pay in cash and a calculator on his counter is the only modern gadget he has used since he opened this shop 47 years ago.

“How will I pay the salary of an accountant? I can barely cover the costs of these three men who help me,” Kumar said, pointing out that stores like his run on wafer-thin profit margins to stay in business.

The archaic accounting systems that were the method of operation of thousands of shops and traders also kept them out of the formal economy.

But as GST draws them into the tax net, government revenues are expected to get a huge boost in a country where tax compliance has been very low.

​Growing pains

The government agrees there will be growing pains due to the scale of the task ahead but points to long-term advantages. Over time, the new tax is expected to add about 2 percent to gross domestic output and vastly improve business efficiencies in the world’s fastest growing economy.

Economists say the GST will be a benefit for manufacturers, because it will free up domestic trade by cutting through a gigantic bureaucracy that involved a myriad of tax inspectors and checkpoints at state borders.

At the moment, trucks transporting goods lose an estimated 60 percent of transit time as they wait at state borders. Paying bribes was a fact of life accepted by businesses.

The tax will also make India’s $2 trillion economy more attractive to investors as it makes the economy more transparent.

More time needed

But in recent weeks many businesses have called for a postponement of the July 1 rollout, saying they did not get enough time to prepare.

K.E. Raghunathan, president of the All India Manufacturers Organization, said businesses need more time to adjust.

“The way it is being implemented, it is bound to create lots of chaotic conditions,” he said.

Underlining concerns of millions of small and medium manufacturers, he said, “they neither have the wherewithal to understand the sudden implementation and if they approach chartered accountants or consultants, it costs lots of money.”

A big concern is that the GST being rolled out by India is far more complex than that introduced by other countries where a single rate prevails. There will be four layers of taxation with rates of 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent.

Manufacturers and traders complain the different levels are creating confusion.

More than 50,000 textile traders went on strike this week. Thousands of other traders shut businesses Friday.

Many big and small retailers worried about the switchover have been offering massive discount sales across the country to get rid of their inventories.

Government pushes ahead

But the government has brushed aside concerns about businesses not being prepared for the switchover. 

“If he is still not ready, then I am afraid he does not want to be ready,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he rejected calls for a delay of the rollout.

Businesses say the tax rollout is the second disruption they have faced, coming months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radical move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency, which slowed the economy.

As customers pour into his shop to buy stationery and other items, New Delhi shopkeeper Vimal Jain wonders whether he will handle customers or enter transactions in a computer starting Saturday. 

“Now this is another headache,” he said. “We had barely begun to recover from demonetization and now this sword hangs over our head.”

The tax will be ushered in at a grand midnight ceremony in parliament, but even that has become contentious. Calling it a “publicity stunt,” the main opposition Congress Party and several other parties have said they will boycott the special session.

US Growth in First Quarter Better Than Expected, Global Outlook Improves

U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2017 was better than expected but not by much. The Commerce Department says U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew 1.4 percent from January to March, 0.2 percent faster than the previous estimate. But many analysts believe U.S. growth will improve in the second quarter. And growth prospects for the global economy are the best they’ve been in six years. Mil Arcega has more.

The Next Silicon Valley? Head to France  

France is known worldwide for its wine, food and culture, but under its new president, the French are aiming to be the new global hub for tech startups.

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to build a version of Silicon Valley in France. His administration has launched pro-business initiatives that are loosening government restrictions and encouraging entrepreneurs to launch their startups in the country.

“The tradition has been in Europe and in France to invest in big, traditional companies and not specifically [in] tech startups. So we will dedicate a €10 billion fund to the investment in tech startups in France,” said Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

Both public and private investments will factor into Macron’s vision of France as a “country of unicorns” — the term popularly used for tech startups valued at $1 billion or more, said Mahjoubi, who recently was in New York City for “La French Touch” conference, where he discussed France’s strategy for attracting the tech world’s best and brightest.

In the French tech world, all eyes are on the privately financed Station F, which is set to open this summer in Paris. Billed as the world’s biggest startup campus, the 34,000-square-meter space already has major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Ubisoft signed on. The companies will develop their products, as well as host and mentor startup founders in incubator programs. One thousand individual startups are expected to set up shop at Station F.

Seeking global appeal

Silicon Valley has attracted tech talent from all over the world. Now France hopes to do the same for those beyond its borders. Initiatives like the “French Tech Ticket” and more recent “French Tech Visa” are designed to bring startup founders, employees and investors to the country through a combination of mentorships, grants and subsidized work spaces. The French Tech Visa fast-tracks a process for participants to obtain a renewable, four-year residence permit.

Not to be left out are the locals in France’s poorer, outer suburbs, the banlieue. The new administration is aiming for social diversity through inclusion initiatives that foster entrepreneurship, said Mahjoubi.

“We decided to create hubs in the private area[s] of France,” said Mahjoubi. “There might be entrepreneurs over there that believe that it’s not for them, because they couldn’t afford to not having a salary for a year of entrepreneurship … we created the condition so they could receive money from the state, to have a salary during these 12 months [to] push their project to the highest level they can.”

Unemployment at 9.5 percent

The encouragement of entrepreneurship is a novel sentiment in a country where traditional attitudes and strict labor laws have long dominated work culture. With a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, venturing out on one’s own to start a business can seem too risky.

But with the success of French unicorns like ride-sharing service BlaBlaCar and network provider Sigfox, attitudes appear to be shifting; 68 percent of French people aged 18 to 25 aspire to run their own business one day, according to a 2015 Ernst & Young survey.

“I think the ecosystem, the government, have done a very good job to do some marketing about entrepreneurship and I think it’s very important because when we compare our situation to the U.S., in the U.S. there is a lot of storytelling, everyone is super enthusiast[ic] and it brings a momentum that is super beneficial,” said François Wyss, co-founder of French startup DataBerries.

Funding available

Wyss and his co-founders recently secured $16 million in their first round of funding for his digital marketing startup.

“There is a lot of funding now in France, so it’s great. We have the chance to have world-class engineers, which are far cheaper than in the U.S. So a lot of companies are developing their core product and R&D in France before exporting it overseas,” said Wyss.

“French tech is all about having roots in France and having a vision for the world,” said Mahjoubi. “The French tech startup scene is an international startup scene.”