Canada recalls diplomats after Palestinians win UN vote

Canada is temporarily recalling its heads of mission to Israel and the West Bank, along with its United Nations representatives in New York and Geneva, to protest the Palestinians’ successful bid on Thursday for upgraded status in the UN.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird pledged to “review the full range of its bilateral relationship” with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the vote in New York City.

“I want to get a sense from the diplomats what they see on the ground, how they see things going, and how we can effectively respond to what could be a new reality,” Baird told CBC News in an interview from New York on Friday.

Only nine countries voted against the Palestinian Authority's bid to have its status in the UN upgraded to state recognition.Only nine countries voted against the Palestinian Authority’s bid to have its status in the UN upgraded to state recognition. (CBC)

Canada was one of nine countries, including the U.S. and Israel, to oppose upgrading the UN observer status of the Palestinian Authority from “entity” to “non-member state.”

In a statement released Friday morning, Baird said, “Yesterday’s unilateral action does nothing to further the Middle East peace process. It will not change the reality on the streets of the West Bank or Gaza. This unilateral step is an impediment to peace.

“We again call on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to return to negotiations without preconditions, for the good of their people.”

Abbas speech ‘combative’

There has been speculation that Canada will ask the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa to leave, or not renew its $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over five years.

However, the minister appeared to discount that in an interview, saying the government values its relationship and dialogue with the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa.

“Sometimes you have to work with people that you disagree with,” he said. “That’s the nature of diplomacy and the nature of my job.”

He said there was no intention to break off relations with the Palestinian Authority.

The minister objected strongly to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s remarks before the UN voted Thursday.

“He basically accused the Israelis of some pretty heinous crimes, ethnic cleansing,” Baird told CBC’s Heather Hiscox.

“It was a combative speech. No tone of reconciliation. It was an opportunity for him to be magnanimous, to reach out to the Israeli government, and we’re disappointed that he didn’t take that opportunity.”

Rob Ford cleared to run in byelection for Toronto mayor

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was cleared today to run again for mayor in a byelection, should one be held ahead of the 2014 municipal election.

Lawyers for Ford, who earlier this week was ordered out of office by an Ontario judge in a conflict of interest case, asked the judge to clarify his ruling to clear up confusion about whether the order bars him as a byelection candidate.

The issue was clarified to lawyers in a conference call on Friday, and clears the way for Ford to re-seek the mayor’s chair if the city opts to hold a byelection.

Ford is also appealing the judge’s decision in the conflict of interest case in a motion expected to be heard next week.

On Monday morning, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland ruled that Ford had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by speaking and participating in a council vote regarding a financial penalty he was ordered to pay after he was found to have violated council’s code of conduct by soliciting donations to his football charity using city materials.

Ford was given 14 days to vacate his office.

Following Hackland’s decision, the city’s solicitor issued a legal opinion, saying she believed Ford was not eligible to run ahead of 2014.

By law, Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for office for a period of up to seven years, but his ruling said Ford was clear to run in 2014.

Ford has said he will seek re-election at the earliest opportunity.

The mayor’s press secretary said Ford will not be available to comment Friday about the judge’s decision.

Friday’s decision will add to what has been a chaotic week at Toronto City Hall, with speculation stirring about who would seek the mayor’s chair should Ford be ruled in eligible to run.

There was even speculation that Coun. Doug Ford would run if his brother was ruled ineligible.

The city’s budget process got underway this week with heated debate and on Thursday night Rob and Doug Ford got into a yelling match with left-leaning Coun. Adam Vaughan.

More to come

Kingfisher boss criticises ‘clunky’ youth employment plan

Ian Cheshire made his comments as the world’s third-largest home-improvement group posted a 6 per cent fall in profits to £257 million over the quarter to October 27, after a fall in sales in the UK and France.

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, the Kingfisher boss called for “targeted measures around employment, particularly if we could see youth employment measures starting to bite”.

The Government’s Youth Contract, which was launched in April to provide employers with an incentive to take on unemployed youngsters aged between 18 and 24, has been criticised for low take-up and Cheshire said: “The intent of the Youth Contract was clearly entirely laudable in terms of getting people back to work. The detail and the way it was structured was too clunky.

“There is a conversation to be had with the Government about how to make that resource easier to target.”

He also called on George Osborne to offer help for first and second-time property buyers next Wednesday, “because this is the part of the market that seems to have seized up”.

Although BQ’s underlying sales fell by 4 per cent, a strong performance from its Screwfix trade format helped the UK and Ireland business grow profits by 5.7% to £59 million. Boosted by 12 new shops and growing online revenues, 252-store Screwfix grew sales by 10.9 per cent to £149 million.

Monitise seeks £100m to ride on tech wave

AIM-listed Monitise wants the cash to take advantage of “significant opportunities” as the global banking industry embraces mobile technology such as contactless “wave and pay” by phone.

The fundraising will be an important test of the City’s appetite for tech firms, following speculation that the group could move its listing overseas.

Chief executive Alastair Lukies today allayed those fears by saying Monitise is applying to move its listing from AIM to the London Stock Exchange’s main market next year.

Lukies has admitted previously that “there are  other environments that could offer more opportunities” such as New York’s Nasdaq or the Hong Kong  Stock Exchange.

The group, in which credit-card firm Visa is a major investor, is processing $25 billion (£15.6 billion) in payments on an annual basis, compared with $1 billion a year ago.

The shares today fell 1.5p, or 4.5%, to 32p, giving Monitise a stock-market value of £368 million.

Victoria on the floor as it dives into the red after board coup

That was reversed from a pre-tax profit of £1.7m last year and comes one month after Geoff Wilding led a boardroom coup that saw chairwoman Katherine Innes Ker kicked off the board.

Mr Wilding warned: “Victoria is facing some real challenges. The group is experiencing strong economic headwinds in each of its major markets, has a cost structure that is too high for its current level of business, limited competitive advantages, excessive debt levels in the UK, surplus production capacity in a sector with abundant surplus production capacity, and a considerable oversupply of stock in the UK.”

Victoria’s revenues declined by 7.8 per cent in the first half to £35.99m. The historic Midland carpets firm cuts its interim dividend from 3.5p to 2p.

Mr Wilding said: “Since our appointment on 3 October, we have begun to… address the key issues facing the business.”

He warned the firm would only break even (before exceptional items) for the full year.

November sales get Thanksgiving weekend boost

Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:20am EST

(Reuters) – Retailers got a lift over the long Thanksgiving weekend, driving gains in November sales despite some pressure earlier in the month from superstorm Sandy, but the results are not expected to match the gains of a year earlier.

Sales at stores open at least a year among the chains that continue to report the data will be closely watched for indications of consumer spending during the beginning of the holiday season.

Limited Brands Inc said on Thursday that its same-store sales rose 5 percent, including a hit of one to two percentage points from Sandy. The results topped analysts’ expectations for a 3.1 percent increase.

Buckle Inc’s 0.1 percent decline in same-store sales missed the analysts’ forecast for a 2 percent rise.

Wet Seal Inc’s same-store sales fell 5.4 percent, but beat analysts’ expectations for a 6.8 percent decline. The chain, which caters to young women, estimated that Sandy took about 1 percentage point away from its same-store sales.

This year, the early part of the month was somewhat muted in the Northeast as residents cleaned up after Sandy.

A total of 52 percent of Black Friday shoppers who participated in a Reuters/Ipsos poll said they had stayed on budget, and 34 percent said they had spent less than planned. Only 14 percent said they had gone over budget.

Analysts expect retailers including Nordstrom Inc, Gap Inc and TJX Cos Inc to post increases in November sales, aided by a busy Thanksgiving weekend.

Excluding drugstores, chains are expected to post a November same-store sales gain of 3.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, slower than the year-earlier growth of 3.5 percent.

Fitch Ratings said on Wednesday that it expected 2012 holiday retail sales to grow between 3 percent and 4 percent, down from a 5.6 percent increase in 2011, even though the season got off to a strong start.

The National Retail Federation still expects sales in November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year’s 5.6 percent increase. Total spending increased 12.8 percent to $59.1 billion over the long Thanksgiving weekend, according to an NRF survey.

Cyber Monday deals are not a factor in retailers’ November reports, as most chains are reporting their sales through Saturday, November 24. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving that this year fell on November 26, was reportedly the biggest online shopping day ever.

Some retailers that analysts have said did well over the weekend, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and online leader Inc, do not report monthly sales.

Same-store sales at Costco Wholesale Corp rose a better-than-expected 6 percent, the warehouse club chain said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Fed’s Fisher presses for clearer U.S. fiscal outlook

Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:53am EST

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – A Federal Reserve official asked for a clearer fiscal outlook from political leaders on Thursday, saying that leaving it to the Fed to lead economic recovery efforts created a dangerous predicament.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher called for more action from the U.S. government to boost employment, saying there were limits to what monetary policy could do.

“We at the central bank have been carrying the load and this is a very dangerous predicament,” Fisher, a self-described anti-inflation hawk, said during a lecture in Frankfurt.

The Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book report on Wednesday that the U.S. economy had performed at a “measured” pace in recent weeks and hiring remained modest.

“Monetary policy provides simply the fuel, but the incentive has to come from our fiscal authorities,” Fisher added.

“The gas tank is full (with liquidity) and now we have to get someone to … step on the accelerator to propel the job-creating machine in the United States. There is a limit to what a monetary authority can do. All we can do is provide liquidity.”

U.S. political leaders are trying to broker an agreement to avoid a “fiscal cliff” – automatic spending cuts and tax increases early in 2013 unless Congress agrees an alternative – which threatens to derail growth in the world’s biggest economy.

“I’m not advocating one solution or the other,” Fisher said with respect to U.S. fiscal policy. “I’m begging for greater certainty.”

He added that a temporary fix would not help employment.

Fisher said the Fed would tighten monetary policy when needed but “we are not there yet”.

Fisher, who is a critic of easy Fed policy, also said he would like the central bank to define how far it is willing to go with its monetary stimulus.

“I personally advocate that we do it sooner,” he said.

Asked when the United States would see a substantial improvement in employment, Fisher said: “Only when we will get clear signals from the fiscal authorities.”

“You can’t expect somebody to hire somebody … until you have confidence you will get a return on the cost.”

“From a monetary standpoint, we have given the fuel … now it’s up to the private sector to engage. And it won’t happen until we get clarity on the fiscal side.”

(Reporting by Eva Kuehnen and Paul Carrel; editing by Stephen Nisbet)

Argentina wins debt reprieve, default averted for now

Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:17am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Argentina has won a reprieve against having to pay $1.33 billion next month to “holdout” investors who rejected a restructuring of its defaulted debt and have waged a long legal battle to be paid in full.

A U.S. appeals court granted an emergency stay order on Wednesday that gives Argentina more time to fight a debt ruling favoring the holdout creditors and eases investor fears of a new default as early as next month.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ordered Argentina to deposit the $1.33 billion payment by December 15 for investors who rejected two restructurings of bonds left over from its massive 2002 default.

Griesa’s order raised the risk of a technical default on about $24 billion worth of debt because it meant that if Argentina sticks to its position of not paying the holdouts, it would also be barred from paying investors who agreed to take a severe haircut in two debt exchanges in 2005 and 2010.

Branding the holdouts as “vulture funds,” the government has vowed never to pay them and it swiftly appealed Griesa’s ruling.

Argentina argued that, if left to stand, the order would make future restructurings impossible for countries facing debt crises because creditors would have no incentive to exchange their bonds at a discount.

However, some legal experts said Griesa’s order would not have such broad ramifications because Argentina hurt its own cause in refusing to pay the holdouts, and that Griesa’s ruling focused on the government’s behavior in this specific case.

Griesa has often voiced frustration with Argentina in court and was riled by recent statements from government officials saying that the country would defy his orders.

In its decision on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put off until well into 2013 a ruling on whether or not Argentina will have to pay in full the holdouts who refused to participate in its two restructurings, which paid less than 30 cents on the dollar.

“The extension of the stay brings back rationality and due process to a litigation that was being rushed through in a manner that understated the importance of the huge precedent that the district judge was seeking to set,” said Vladimir Werning, an emerging markets economist at JPMorgan in New York.

Both Argentina and bondholders who took part in the debt exchanges filed appeals to the 2nd Circuit against Griesa’s order. The appeals court will hear oral arguments on February 27.

Argentina’s economy ministry said the appeal court’s decision “ensures normal performance of Argentina’s debt payments in December.”

“The threat of default has been removed for now,” said Ignacio Labaqui of emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors.

“This is really good news for Argentina and exchange bond holders,” he added. “The ruling came faster than expected, which sends the message that Griesa’s decision may have been too harsh, from the point of view of the appeals court.”

Lead holdout investors Elliott Management Corp and Aurelius Capital Management both declined to comment.

Lawyers for the holders of Argentina’s exchanged bonds, who will now be paid a combined $3.3 billion in December as scheduled, welcomed the 2nd Circuit’s order.

“The stay ensures that the exchange bondholders will receive their rightful payments through December, and until the court can carefully consider the significant issues and interests that are involved before rendering its final ruling,” Sean O’Shea, a lawyer for a group of exchange bondholders including Gramercy Funds Management LLC, said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Basil Katz and Nate Raymond in New York and Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Editing by Kieran Murray)

(This story was corrected to fix the source of statement in the final paragraph)