House passes $1.9tn pandemic relief bill, sends it to Senate

House passes $1.9tn pandemic relief bill, sends it to Senate
Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2021

House passes $1.9tn pandemic relief bill, sends it to Senate

House passes $1.9tn pandemic relief bill, sends it to Senate
  • Final passage appeared likely after the measure cleared a procedural hurdle by a partyline vote of 219 to 210.

WASHINGTON: The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill early Saturday in a win for President Joe Biden, even as top Democrats tried assuring agitated progressives that they’d revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.
The new president’s vision for flushing cash to individuals, businesses, states and cities battered by COVID-19 passed on a near party-line 219-212 vote. That ships the massive measure to the Senate, where Democrats seem bent on resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.
Democrats said the still-faltering economy and the half-million American lives lost demanded quick, decisive action. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step with a public that polling shows largely views the bill favorably.
“I am a happy camper tonight,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. “This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you’re not, we’re going without you.”
Republicans said the bill was too expensive and said too few education dollars would be spent quickly to immediately reopen schools. They said it was laden with gifts to Democratic constituencies like labor unions and funneled money to Democratic-run states they suggested didn’t need it because their budgets had bounced back.
“To my colleagues who say this bill is bold, I say it’s bloated,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “To those who say it’s urgent, I say it’s unfocused. To those who say it’s popular, I say it is entirely partisan.”
That divide is making the fight a showdown over which party voters will reward for heaping more federal spending to combat the coronavirus and revive the economy atop the $4 trillion approved last year.
The battle is also emerging as an early test of Biden’s ability to hold together his party’s fragile congressional majorities — just 10 votes in the House and an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.
At the same time, Democrats were trying to figure out how to assuage progressives who lost their top priority in a jarring Senate setback Thursday.
That chamber’s nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said Senate rules require that a federal minimum wage increase would have to be dropped from the COVID-19 bill, leaving the proposal on life support. The measure would gradually lift that minimum to $15 hourly by 2025, doubling the current $7.25 floor in effect since 2009.
Hoping to revive the effort in some form, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is considering adding a provision to the Senate version of the COVID-19 relief bill that would penalize large companies that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour, said a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
That was in line with ideas floated Thursday night by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, a chief sponsor of the $15 plan, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, to boost taxes on corporations that don’t hit certain minimum wage targets.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered encouragement, too, calling a minimum wage increase “a financial necessity for our families, a great stimulus for our economy and a moral imperative for our country.” She said the House would “absolutely” approve a final version of the relief bill because of its widespread benefits, even if it lacked progressives’ treasured goal.
While Democratic leaders were eager to signal to rank-and-file progressives and liberal voters that they would not yield on the minimum wage fight, their pathway was unclear because of GOP opposition and questions over whether they had enough Democratic support.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., sidestepped a question on taxing companies that don’t boost pay, saying of Senate Democrats, “I hesitate to say anything until they decide on a strategy.”
Progressives were demanding that the Senate press ahead anyway on the minimum wage increase, even if it meant changing that chamber’s rules and eliminating the filibuster, a tactic that requires 60 votes for a bill to move forward.
“We’re going to have to reform the filibuster because we have to be able to deliver,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, a progressive leader.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., another high-profile progressive, also said Senate rules must be changed, telling reporters that when Democrats meet with their constituents, “We can’t tell them that this didn’t get done because of an unelected parliamentarian.”
Traditionalists of both parties — including Biden, who served as a senator for 36 years — have opposed eliminating filibusters because they protect parties’ interests when they are in the Senate minority. Biden said weeks ago that he didn’t expect the minimum wage increase to survive the Senate’s rules.
Pelosi, too, seemed to shy away from dismantling Senate procedures, saying, “We will seek a solution consistent with Senate rules, and we will do so soon.”
The House COVID-19 bill includes the minimum wage increase, so the real battle over its fate will occur when the Senate debates its version over the next two weeks.
The overall relief bill would provide $1,400 payments to individuals, extend emergency unemployment benefits through August and increase tax credits for children and federal subsidies for health insurance.
It also provides billions for schools and colleges, state and local governments, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, renters, food producers and struggling industries like airlines, restaurants, bars and concert venues.
Democrats are pushing the relief measure through Congress under special rules that will let them avoid a Senate GOP filibuster, meaning that if they are united they won’t need any Republican votes.
It also lets the bill move faster, a top priority for Democrats who want the bill on Biden’s desk before the most recent emergency jobless benefits end on March 14.
But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an “incidental” impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy purposes. MacDonough decided that the minimum wage provision failed that test.
Republicans oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt businesses and cost jobs.

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Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline
Updated 21 April 2021

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline
  • London and Frankfurt opened lower, while Shanghai and Tokyo also declined

BEIJING: Major global stock markets were mostly lower Tuesday after Wall Street retreated from record highs.

London and Frankfurt opened lower, while Shanghai and Tokyo also declined. Hong Kong and Seoul advanced.

Wall Street futures gained a day after the benchmark S&P 500 index lost 0.5 percent on declines for tech, bank and energy stocks.

Investor optimism has been boosted by higher corporate profits, US hiring and consumer confidence. Still, traders are uneasy about a rise in inflation and interest rates and renewed coronavirus infections that prompted some governments to reimpose anti-disease controls.

“Wall Street could be in for a few choppy trading weeks as more of the same strong earnings beats becomes the theme,” said Edward Moya of Oanda in a report.

In early trading, the FTSE 100 in London declined 0.3 percent to 6,982.77 and the DAX in Frankfurt lost 0.2 percent to 15,335.68. The CAC 40 in Paris shed 0.6 percent to 6,256.90. On Wall Street, futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up less than 0.1 percent.

On Monday, the Dow lost 0.4 percent. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow hit highs on Friday.

Capital One lost 0.9 percent and Valero Energy slid 2.3 percent.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 1 percent. Chipmaker Intel fell 1.7 percent.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.1 percent to 3,472.94 while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo tumbled 2 percent to 29,100.38. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.1 percent to 29,135.73.

The Kospi in Seoul rose 0.7 percent to 3,220.70 while the S&P-ASX 200 in Sydney sank 0.7 percent to 7,017.80.

India’s Sensex was up less than 0.1 percent at 47,978.05. New Zealand, Singapore and Jakarta declined while Bangkok advanced.

This week, 81 of the 500 members of the S&P 500 index are due to report earnings, as are 10 of the 30 members of the Dow, including Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Communications and Intel. On average, analysts expect quarterly profits across the S&P 500 to be up 24 percent from a year earlier, according to FactSet. In energy markets, benchmark US crude rose 82 cents to $64.25 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 90 cents to $67.95 per barrel in London.

The dollar advanced to 108.40 yen from Monday’s 108.11 yen. The euro gained to $1.2070 from $1.2039.


Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA
Updated 21 April 2021

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA
  • Consultants have seen a 50 percent rise in activity in the first quarter of 2021

RIYADH: Sovereign AEI, a firm which specializes in helping companies set up operations in the Kingdom, has seen a spike in business activity.

“The beginning of this year has been very encouraging as we have seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in Saudi Arabia market-entry activity, when compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Stuart D’Souza, co-founder and CEO of Arabian Enterprise Incubators (AEI), one of the partner firms that makes up Sovereign AEI, told Arab News.

As part of the ambitious Riyadh Strategy 2030 announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this year, the government wants to attract up to 500 international companies to set up their regional bases in the city, create around 35,000 new jobs for Saudi locals, and double the capital’s population.

The strategy aims to invest up to SR70 billion ($18.67 billion) into the national economy by the end of the decade. The strategy is already paying dividends.

“Sovereign AEI is helping to facilitate this new strategy. Our products and services are conducive with Riyadh Strategy 2030 by helping new and existing businesses capitalize on the expected significant growth forecast for the Kingdom,” Paul Arnold, managing director of Sovereign Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

BACKGROUND

• The government wants to attract up to 500 international companies to set up their regional bases in the city, create around 35,000 new jobs for Saudi locals, and double the capital’s population.

• The strategy aims to invest up to SR70 billion ($18.67 billion) into the national economy by the end of the decade. The strategy is already paying dividends.

“We are also encouraging businesses to look ahead and establish a physical presence in the Kingdom, while taking into consideration new criteria set to come into force by 2024, the specifics of which are yet to be formally announced,” he added.

Sovereign has been operating in Saudi Arabia for about 20 years and AEI since 2012. They formed their joint partnership in 2019.

In 2019, the company helped 600 businesses visit Saudi Arabia to investigate potential opportunities. Half were first-time visitors and over 70 percent went on to establish new business links in the Kingdom. AEI alone has helped over 1,500 foreign businesses to enter, establish or expand in Saudi Arabia since 2012.

Last year, despite the restrictions as a result of the pandemic, Sovereign AEI reported a 300 percent increase in corporate services in Saudi Arabia. The team is expecting this positive growth to continue in 2021.

“The Saudi market presents tremendous opportunities. Most companies are now aware of the potential of the market, the main pillars of Vision 2030 and the significant number of economic reforms carried out over the past 18 months. However, plotting a road map to success can be a challenge,” Arnold said.

“Our principles are to educate, de-risk and enable the client’s ability to enter, establish or expand in the Kingdom. Our robust performance in the first quarter is a testament to the attractive nature of the Saudi market and we continue to see a growing interest and increasing shift of client focus toward the Kingdom, as the country continues to unveil new strategic initiatives,” he added.


New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’
Updated 21 April 2021

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’
  • Anniversary of US crude plunging to minus-$40 at start of pandemic recession

DUBAI: Oil prices resumed their surge on global markets on Tuesday as traders shrugged off the memory of “Black Monday” 2020, when some crude prices went into negative territory at the start of the pandemic recession.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, went above $68 a barrel for the first time in over a year, while West Texas Intermediate, which approached minus-$40 at the depth of the oil crisis exactly a year ago, leapt above $64.
The resurgence in the oil price — which has seen some experts suggesting the possibility of a “supercycle” in which crude goes back above $100 a barrel — is partly down to improved prospects as the global economy moves outs of pandemic lockdowns.
The global rollout of coronavirus vaccines has led economic experts to predict a sharp recovery in growth in 2021, with the International Monetary Fund recently forecasting a sharp rise in economic activity for the rest of the year. China last week said its economy had grown by 18.3 percent in the first quarter of the year.
But oil analysts believe the actions of OPEC+ — the producers’ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia —had been the biggest factor in helping reduce the huge glut of oil that threatened to swamp the world market last spring.
Since last April, OPEC+ has taken more than 3 billion barrels of oil off the global market, through a combination of strong internal discipline and voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter.
Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, the Saudi Energy Minister and co-chairman of OPEC+, has repeatedly urged caution on the 23-member organization as COVID-19 cases re-emerge in some parts of the world. Europe and India are the latest causes of concern.
“The reality remains that the global picture is far from even, and the recovery is far from complete,” he told the last OPEC+ meeting.
The oil price bulls are encouraged by increasing demand from China, the biggest oil consumer in the world.
Figures from the country’s customs regulator, released on Tuesday, showed that crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia — its biggest supplier — had risen by nearly 9 percent in March, with strong domestic demand bolstered by a freeing up of supplies after port congestions.
Some analysts still believe Brent crude could hit $75 this year, and reckon $100 a barrel next year is a possibility.
But nobody appears to believe the volatile market conditions of last spring, and negative oil prices, will happen again.
Robin Mills, chief executive officer of consultancy Qamar Energy, told Arab News: “That was a pretty unusual set of circumstances.”
He added: “Never say never, and traders have short memories, but I think the fixes in place would make it unlikely to go negative again.”


Egypt targets investments of $80 billion

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion
Updated 21 April 2021

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion
  • Plan forecasts 125 percent increase in funding for production sector

CAIRO: Egypt is aiming to raise EGP 1.25 trillion ($80 billion) as part of its investment plan for the fiscal year 2021/2022, according to the Egyptian Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala Al-Saeed.

The investment plan forecasts a 125 percent increase in funding for the production sector, the minister said, along with a 30 percent increase for the country’s service sector.

Al-Saeed said the plan helps address the public spending commitments related to health and education and scientific research, as well funding for the continued efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said priority would be given to high-productivity sectors that drive sustainable economic growth in Egypt such as the manufacturing, communications, information technology and agriculture sectors.

According to the minister, the most important goals of the 2021/2022 sustainable development plan include addressing important social issues such as gender equality and public investments into green projects.


Korean envoy invites Saudi Arabia to GICC2021

Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
Updated 20 April 2021

Korean envoy invites Saudi Arabia to GICC2021

Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
  • The annual conference provides an opportunity to present projects to potential Korean partners, and to hold personal consultations

RIYADH: South Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook has invited Saudi Arabia to attend the Global Infrastructure Cooperation Conference (GICC2021).

The annual conference provides an opportunity to present projects to potential Korean partners, and to hold personal consultations.

The ambassador met Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr, undersecretary at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing for housing subsidies, and general supervisor of the International Cooperation Department at the ministry in Riyadh.

GICC2021 is scheduled for “later this year,” the ambassador told Arab News, adding that the meeting “reviewed the close, friendly and cooperative relations” between the two countries, and “agreed to continue to expand bilateral cooperation in the housing sector.”

He said: “I commended the Saudi government’s efforts to help Saudi families own their house through the Sakani program, taking note of the signing of four agreements during the Sakani Forum held last Thursday in Riyadh.”

The Sakani program helped 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021, surpassing its target of serving 51,000 families.

It was formed in 2017 by the Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund, with the aim of facilitating home ownership in the Kingdom by creating new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals, and financing their purchase. It has a goal of reaching 70 percent home ownership by 2030.

The program aims to serve 220,000 Saudi families this year by creating 50,000 housing units, facilitating the reservation of 30,000 residential land plots, and arranging 140,000 real estate loans. To date, Sakani has enabled more than 350,000 families to own homes.