In Brief – N.8 – March 8, 2015

“What we are still mostly seeing is a model of (Agriculture) production that cannot prevent the degradation of soils and the loss of biodiversity (…) this model must be reviewed. We need a paradigm shift,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said.

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether General Electric’s (GE) proposed acquisition of the Thermal Power, Renewable Power & Grid businesses of Alstom is in line with the EU Merger Regulation.

“Initial conclusions already indicate that Gemalto SIM products are secure and the Company doesn’t expect to endure a significant financial prejudice,” Gemalto declared 3 days after revelations about joint hacking by the NSA and the GCHQ.

Russian forces, artillery and air defence units as well as command and control elements are still active in Ukraine, (…) I am deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

France has deployed its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle against ISIS in Iraq. Through this naval contribution, France has become the second most engaged western country after the USA. This is also an opportunity for France to show its Arab partners the capacities of its military industry, chiefly its fighter jet Rafale.

Here is an issue that will be at the center of the upcoming ECB’s massive quantitative easing (QE): according to IMF experts, investment in the euro area, and particularly private investment, has not recovered since the onset of the global financial crisis.

In its latest Economic Survey of Italy and one year after Matteo Renzi has become Italy’s Prime Minister, the OECD estimates that if fully implemented, reforms introduced in Italy, should raise GDP by an additional 6% over ten years.

“Almost all OPEC countries, except perhaps the Arab bloc, are very uncomfortable,” Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s oil minister and president of OPEC, told the Financial Times.

Tax breaks for small and micro-sized businesses in China amounted $10 billion in 2014, the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) revealed. Nearly 80 percent of urban jobs in China are provided by small companies.

“Will we wake up one day to learn we are at war?” VGTRK asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine. “I think that this apocalyptic scenario is highly unlikely, and I hope it never comes to that,” Putin answered.

In order to pursue new trade agreements, President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass trade promotion authority so that the U.S. – not China – can play a leading role in negotiating 21st century trade deals.

“The labor force participation rate is lower than most estimates of its trend, and wage growth remains sluggish, suggesting that some cyclical weakness persists. In short, considerable progress has been achieved in the recovery of the labor market, though room for further improvement remains,” said the Fed’s chair Janet Yellen.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister S. Abbas Araghchi recognized the importance of continuing the dialogue after new “discussions that focused on the need to resolve, as soon as possible, all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear program.”

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, is excited about the encouraging results of one of EU-funded projects to tackle Ebola. “We have preliminary evidence that the antiviral drug ‘favipiravir‘ may be effective against early Ebola disease,” he said.

The FBI announced a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev for his alleged involvement as the administrator of the GameOver Zeus botnet, believed to be responsible for the theft of more than $100 million from businesses and consumers in the U.S. and around the world.

The USA and Qatar are both committed to making sure that ISIL (Islamic State) is defeated, said President Barack Obama after he met with Amir of Qatar. “We have a very strong security relationship, Qatar is a strong partner in our coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” Obama stressed.

Is it a turnaround for the French economy? According to official statistics, French unemployment dropped slightly from record highs. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the figures were “an encouragement to build on”.

“It should come as little surprise then that we continue to see fraud, after fraud, after fraud on Wall Street – since the individuals who engaged in the wrongdoing rarely, if ever, face any real consequences,” said Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services for the State of New York.

“The (joint NSA-GCHQ hacking) operation very probably happened,” Chief Executive Olivier Piou of Gemalto told a news conference, but “it’s difficult to prove our conclusions legally, so we’re not going to take legal action.”

“The problem today is particularly around Mariupol, Ukraine. We’ve told the Russians clearly that if there was a separatist attack in the direction of Mariupol things would be drastically altered, including in terms of sanctions,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio.

“The Venezuelan Government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces,” replied the US State Department after President Nicolas Maduros accused the USG of “failed coup attempt”.

The consumer price index (CPI-U) fell 0.7 percent in January 2015, the sharpest drop since December 2008, the Labor Department said. The gasoline decrease was overwhelmingly the cause of the decline in the all items index, which would have risen 0.1 percent had the gasoline index been unchanged, added the BLS.

Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed on February 27, 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow. He worked in the Government of Russia as Minister of fuel and energy (1997), Vice Premier of Russia and Security Council member from 1997 to 1998. Since 2000 he had been an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Baa2 from Baa1 the rating on the City of Chicago. The negative outlook reflects Moody’s expectation that the city’s credit quality could weaken as unfunded pension liabilities grow and exert increased pressure on the city’s operating budget. The outlook on the long-term ratings remains negative.

The seasonally adjusted HSBC India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), prepared by Markit, fell to 51.2 in February from 52.9 in January. The reading was the lowest since September, making it however the 16th straight month of growth in activity.

According to Henry To, contributor to Forbes, there are three (other) reasons why the Fed will not begin a new rate hike cycle this year. 1. The Fed is still haunted by its policy mistakes during the 1930s. 2. U.S. inflationary pressures are still subdued. 3. Interest rates need to stay low in order for the U.S. government to service its increasing debt levels.

Bill Gross, the Janus Capital fund manager and Pimco founder, told CNBC that the NASDAQ hitting 5,000 represents “a little bit of a bubble.” Today’s situation is not the same as it was in 2000, but it’s “certainly an overvaluation that might, at some point, be corrected,” Gross said.

In these times of all-time highs, getting more liquid could be the best coverage strategy. The situation on the financial markets indicates that overbuying is getting so strong that at least a quick but biting correction gets likely. Liquidity is your ability to reposition.

Iran trains, arms and dispatches terrorists on 5 continents (…) this is what Iran is doing now without nuclear weapons. Imagine what Iran would do with nuclear weapons,” tweeted Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu while visiting Washington DC.

“As far as I can tell, there was nothing new, (he) didn’t offer any viable alternatives,” US President Barack Obama said after Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu gave his controversial speech in the US Congress.

Sources close to US intelligence community have been talking about the murder of Boris Nemtsov as possibly resulting from an action carried out by free-lance Russians having “more or less ties” with Russian intelligence. President Vladimir Putin was not behind the plot and is said to be “both stunned and very angry,” the same sources said.

Government agencies, including the Fed, failed to recognize the extent of the risks or how severely they could damage the financial system and the economy,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said about the financial crisis.

Elections do not change treaties, (…) it is clear that you can have another approach to the Greek crisis; there may be more flexibility, but Tsipras’ victory does not entitle you to change everything,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais, referring to the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“The scale of the net loss for 2014 illustrates the twofold challenge confronting Areva: continuing stagnation of the nuclear operations, lack of competitiveness and difficulties in managing the risks inherent in large projects. The group understands how serious this situation is,” Philippe Knoche, CEO, said after Areva reported a loss for 2014 of $5.3 billion.

China will raise its defense budget by around 10 percent in 2015, compared with last year’s 12.2 percent, the lowest in 5 years, a Chinese government official said, adding that “there is still a gap between China’s armed forces (and foreign counterparts) in terms of overall military equipment.”

Mandarin Oriental confirmed that the credit card systems in an isolated number of its hotels in the US and Europe have been accessed without authorization, a direct result of a cyber-attack. Incidents of this nature are increasingly becoming an industry-wide concern, said a company’s communiqué.

The plunge in oil prices showed that Gabon’s plan to diversify its economy away from overdependence on oil is clearly the right way to go and is now more relevant than ever, IMF staff said.

Rapid expansion of oil supply from unconventional sources, a significant change in OPEC’s policy stance, and weak global demand are driving the recent plunge in oil prices, according to a new paper by the World Bank.

With very strong growth of 6 percent in 2014, lower energy export prices in 2015 will likely contribute to Malaysia’s growth moderating to a still impressive rate of close to 5 percent, IMF economists explained.

The OECD’s latest Environmental Performance Review of Spain warned that higher industrial output could put new pressure on the environment as the economy rebounds.